Honduras: Commission against Femicide calls for effective legislation

Press conference of the Commission
against Femicide. (Photo: CEM-H)

Sources: CEM-H, Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, El Heraldo

The civil society organizations that make up the Commission against Femicide (the murder of women) in Honduras expressed last week their indignation and concern at the increase in this phenomenon in the country and the fact that the authorities are showing "little or no interest" in it. They warned that “Femicide is an extreme expression of violence against women based on men’s power to control and dominate us, our bodies and our lives".

At a press conference, the Commission, whose members include the Centre for Women’s Studies (CEM-H, the focal point of Social Watch), stated that "Aggression against women and the murder of women have become systematic and habitual in the country. According to the Special Prosecutor for Cases involving Women, between January and July 2010 some 178 cases of femicide were reported, and in the same period in 2011 there were 192, which amounts to an 8% increase in a very short time."

Last week the newspaper El Heraldo reported Ramón Custodio, the Human Rights Commissioner for Honduras, as saying that between 2002 and the first half of 2011 around 2,400 women died violent deaths. Seventy percent of the victims were from 15 to 40 years old, and the group most at risk were those aged 20 to 24.

At the press conference the civil society Commission stated that on 23 August a bill against femicide and other forms of violence against women, which classed femicide as a specific crime, came before the country’s Congress. However, these organizations warned that, “…what is needed, rather than laws that are not observed, is real interest and commitment on the part of those who run the country, of the officers of the law and of those who are supposed to ensure the people’s safety. To sum up, we need strong, dynamic institutions that are ethically responsible and politically coherent with the principles of human rights, but these qualities are sadly lacking and the situation has worsened since the coup d’etat."

The Commission added that, "For a law against femicide and violence against women to be effective there has to be wide-ranging consultation and a consensus among women’s and feminist organizations. This must be quite apart from any party political interest, or measures taken under the excuse of a regional security plan that will increase the budget for arms and will be used to exert control over people’s lives."

In addition, the proposed legislation "… is based on principles that do not recognize women as having rights, and contain a series of incoherent and imprecise points that could leave legal loopholes that might reinforce impunity and make femicide a synonym for homicide. This would de-politicize the term coined by the feminist movement in the country and internationally, and conceal the unequal power relations and the structural causes of violence against women."

"We call on the National Congress not to pass a law that defines femicide without prior wide-ranging consultation with organizations and institutions that defend women’s rights."

This pronouncement came on 31 August, two days after a meeting in the city of Antigua in Guatemala at which the Central American Network against Violence against Women expressed their alarm at "…this evident regression in the recognition and enforcement of women’s human rights, and particularly at the authorities persistently ignoring specific violence against women in various contexts including increased political conflicts, networks of organized crime and militarism".

The Network’s declaration went on to say, "We are also alarmed at the fundamentalist and family-oriented influences in our States, which are mostly lay countries, as these are working against sexual and reproductive rights and pose a threat to the lives and health of women of all ages … This state of affairs in the region is fostering the sustained increase in femicide, and this is happening not just among couples but in all unequal power relations between men and women, and is especially serious with regard to adolescent women. This situation is also generating an increase in sexual violence, sexual exploitation and the white slave trade. In this worrying panorama we are focusing on the weakness of the institutions responsible for justice and safety for all women as they are legitimizing and promoting impunity for the aggressors, and this in turn is causing desperation and a growing lack of confidence in the institutions of these States."