On March 8, while the world celebrated women’s historical fight for equality and equity on International Women's Day, almost 60 Guatemalan girls were locked up and burned alive inside the “Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción” shelter, located in San José Pinula, Guatemala. At present, 40 have died, many others remain missing and some survived. Recent testimonies gathered from the victims and eyewitnesses point to direct participation of the police and shelter authorities in this massacre.
Since 2015, more than 16 complaints have been filed before the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman revealing physical, sexual and psychological violence towards children and teenagers living in the shelter - a state institution whose duty is to respect, protect and ensure the best interests of the children entrusted to its care. The complaints resulted in a judicial order issued on December 12, 2016 demanding changes within the Social Welfare Secretariat that would guarantee the well-being and integral development of these children. The Secretariat never complied with this order.
Amidst our outrage, pain and grief at this horrific incident, we want to acknowledge the invaluable job done by our partners at Nómada. They were the first to publish news of this tragedy on their website and continued publishing updates which contributed, together with other local outlets, to loud demands for justice and further coverage of the massacre in the international media. Sadly but not surprisingly, Nómada has since been targeted by cyber-attacks and hackers in an attempt to prevent their investigative reporting.
As Hivos, we stand firmly behind the condemnations of the United Nations, Impunity Watch, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the statements signed by civil society organizations that are or have been Hivos’ partners, such as the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), the Centre for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Confluence of Mesoamerican Feminists Las Petateras. We also fully support the calls issued by different feminist and women's organizations for a thorough investigation by the government and their expressions of deep concern regarding the lack of attention paid to the complaints of the victims, the shelter’s utter disregard for children's and women's rights and the impunity of the perpetrators.
As Hivos, we also demand:
- That the State of Guatemala expedite the investigation, prosecute those responsible for this femicide and guarantee immediate justice for the families affected.
- That the State of Guatemala take long term drastic measures to ensure permanent protection of Guatemalan women and children against any kind of violence, especially of those who, because of their age or a special condition, are under the care of the State.
- That the State of Guatemala comply with the international commitments it undertook when it ratified the CEDAW, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
- That the human rights of every Guatemalan enshrined in the constitution be protected.
- That the work of human rights defenders, journalists, activists and civil society organizations not be obstructed so they can accurately and fairly monitor anomalies at State or other institutions, and thus prevent unfortunate events such as this one.
This tragedy show us how urgently we need to stimulate the creation of support networks for activists, journalists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations to monitor this incident and others like it and demand that justice be served.
We urge news organizations, CSOs and individual rights activists everywhere to keep discussing and analyzing the developments of this case and to promote human rights advocacy initiatives in Guatemala and Latin America, so that gross violations like this never happen again.
Hivos stands for a truly open society, one in which women of all ages are able to exercise their right to a life free of violence on a basis of equality, one in which citizens and civil society are can demand accountability from their government without retaliation and harassment.
Read this Statement in Spanish.