Inter-American Rights Watch

Velásquez Paiz et al v. Guatemala: Gender Stereotypes in Guatemala

By: Justin Furry

Special Feature Reporter

Gender stereotypes and discrimination is an issue that has been in societies across the world. Recently, gender discrimination has been a big problem in Guatemala. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide, or gender motivated killings of women, in the world. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was able to explore the relationship between this discrimination and violence towards women in Guatemala in the 2015 case Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala.

On August 12, 2005, Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz, a 19-year-old student, went to a party. Throughout the evening, Claudina was regularly in contact with her parents. At around 11:45 pm, Claudina contacted her parents for the last time. Two hours later, Claudina’s parents were informed that their daughter may be in danger. They called the police, who told them that they would have to wait at least 24 hours to report Claudina’s disappearance. Claudina’s parents and friends searched for her throughout the night. The police did not formally take notice of Claudina’s disappearance until 8:30 am the next morning.

Shortly after, an anonymous tip provided information that helped police and firemen find a woman’s body. The body was later identified as Claudina by her parents. Claudina was found with a bullet wound on her forehead, as well as signs of sexual violence. There is no evidence that the Public Ministry of Guatemala or the police had undertaken any action following information of Claudina’s disappearance, except for the report made at 8:30 am on August 13, 2005. No criminal investigation was initiated until after Claudina’s body was found.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Guatemala was responsible for violating Claudina and her family’s human rights. The judgment is important because it casts further light on what specific steps are necessary for a state to satisfy its due diligence obligations within the particular context of violence against women. The Court acknowledged that Guatemala had taken some measures to prevent the generalized violence of woman in society, but the measures were far from sufficient. The Court said that whenever a report is made to the police about a missing woman, a duty of strict due diligence arises from the very first hours of the disappearance. Thus, the Court ruled that Guatemala had violated Articles 4.1, 5.1, 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights (“ACHR”) and Articles 1.1 and 7 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“IACVAW”).

The Court also found that the lack of a fundamental due diligence on the part of Guatemalan officials throughout the investigation process had deprived Claudina’s family access to justice in violation of Articles 8.1 and 25 of the ACHR. The Court criticized the investigation and thought the process was directed at the culture of gender bias and discrimination prevalent within both the police and prosecuting authorities. One discriminatory practice the Court considered was a report filed by the prosecutor in which the motive of the murder was described as “passionate possibly under the influence of alcohol”. The Court relied on the statements of Professor Christine Chinkin, Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, at the LSE. Professor Chinkin cautioned against the concept of a “crime of passion” which is founded on gender stereotyping that justifies violence against women. To describe the murderer as “passionate” justifies the violent act and at the same time blame the victim. The Court noted that the prosecutor’s attitude was not exclusive to the authorities leading the investigation but, rather, reflected a general tendency among officials to victim blame by pointing out factors such as the victim’s lifestyle or clothing.

The judgment represents one example of the way in which the due diligence standard has the potential to address the causes of gender discrimination and violence against women.

For further information please see:

IACHR Project – Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala, Case Summary – 2015

Oxford Human Rights Hub – Velásquez Paiz et al v Guatemala: Gender Stereotypes and Lack of Justice – Part I – 9 August 2016

Centre For Women, Peace & Security – Velásquez Paiz et al v. Guatemala

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rejects Assange Complaint Against Ecuador

By: Justin Furry

Special Feature Reporter

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected the request for precautionary measures requested by the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange against Ecuador. Assange has been taking refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012 to avoided being extradited to Sweden, where authorities were seeking to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. Although that investigation was later dropped, Assange fears he could be extradited to and face charges in the United States, where WikiLeaks is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo Courtesy of AP Photo.

Assange’s complaint against Ecuador arises out of new set of rules imposed by Ecuador. In October 2018, Ecuador forced Assange to comply with a new “cohabitation protocol.” These new rules forced Assange to take responsibility for his maintenance, health, food, cleaning and laundry expenses, as well putting restrictions on who could visit him and when. The Ecuadorian government has said that if Assange fails to comply with the new rules, then it would lead to a potential withdrawal of Assange from asylum.

Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him. A friend who regularly visits Assange says he complains privately that the Ecuadorian government recently removed embassy diplomats who were sympathetic to Assange and replaced them with officials who are much less friendly towards him. Assange’s lawyers have also cited media reports suggesting Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno had tried to reach an agreement with the United States on handing over Assange to the United States government in exchange for debt relief.

Assange’s complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights argued the existence of a “potential risk” to his situation in the embassy for the conditions that regulate his asylum granted in 2012. Assange also demanded that he be protected from extradition to the United States. In November 2018, United States federal prosecutors mistakenly made public a document which suggested that Assange had been secretly indicted by the United States. United States Officials have denied that Assange has been charged and his name mistakenly appeared in the document in an apparent “cut and paste error.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced its decision to reject Assange’s complaint through a statement issued by the United State’s Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office stated “(t)he decision was based on the fact that the request filed by Assange did not comply with the requirements of gravity, urgency and irreparable harm provided for in Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.” Although the Commission rejected Assange’s complaint against Ecuador, they did remind Ecuador of an international law which states “that no state should deport, return or extradite someone to another country where that person might face human rights abuses.”

With his complaint against Ecuador being rejected, it seems like only option for Assange is to comply with the new rules imposed by Ecuador or possibly face a withdrawal of his asylum.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Human rights agency rejects Assange complaint against Ecuador – 14 March 2019

Telesur – IACHR Denies Precautionary Measures Requested by Assange – 13 March 2019

Telesur – IACHR Requests Information on Assange’s Condition – 1 February 2019

Sputnik International – OAS Requests Info on Assange’s Conditions in Ecuadorian Embassy in UK – 1 February 2019

Trial Delayed for Murder of Honduran Activist, Berta Cáceres

By: Zoe Whitehouse
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Honduran Supreme Court has delayed the criminal trial regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, an internationally known environmental and indigenous activist, was shot to death inside her home in La Esperanza in Western Honduras on March 2, 2016.

Amid claims of impartiality, international lawyers representing the family of Berta Cáceres have filed to suspend the trial. Attorneys allege the presiding judges have abused their authority. During pre-trial, judicial decisions and omissions had violated the due process rights of the victim’s family. In one instance, the Court had failed to sanction the public prosecutor for ignoring a court order to provide evidence to the family’s legal team. The attorneys have argued this demonstrated a “disregard for the rule of law,” and have requested the recusal and replacement of three presiding judges.

Lawyers for the Cáceres family have also filed five injunctions with the appellate court. One injunction challenges the court’s decision to reject witnesses, experts, and documentary evidence. The legal team believes this evidence would demonstrate a greater criminal conspiracy.

Cáceres was a vocal critic regarding hydroelectric-dam construction in Western Honduras. In 2015, a year before her death, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to stop the Agua Zarca project along the Gualcarque River. Cáceres had filed complaints, organized local assemblies, and led protests regarding the negative impact of the proposed dam for indigenous communities. Her campaign reached greater international recognition when she brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Farmers carry photo of Cáceres. Image courtesy of Jorge Cabrera. 

While Cáceres garnered international acclaim for her efforts, military officials and high-profile business associates continued to issue death threats against her. Cáceres had reported receiving 33 death threats for her campaign against the Agua Zarca dam. In early 2017, Roberto David Castillo Mejia, the former CEO of Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., the Honduran company responsible for the Agua Zarca dam project, was arrested and charged. Prosecutors alleged Castillo Mejia acted as the “intellectual author” of Cáceres’s murder. He is not currently part of the suspended trial.

For further information, please see: 

Al Jazeera – Trial for murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres delayed – 17 September 2018

The Guardian – Berta Cáceres murder trial delayed after judges accused of abusing authority – 17 September 2018

The New York Times – Trial for Murder of Honduran Environmental Activist Delayed – 17 September 2018