Thursday, August 20, 2015

New femicide law in Colombia parallels regional trend (August 20, 2015)

A new law in Colombia targeting femicide could be a key tool in combating violence against women in a country where on average one woman is killed every two days.

The law, which came into effect July 6, makes femicide a distinct and legally defined crime, with jail sentences of 20 to 41 years. But forensic experts and prosecutors will need to change the way they investigate gender-related killings to win convictions, reports Reuters.

Experts say new protocols and techniques for autopsies on murdered women and guidelines on clues to possible femicide - such as torture, rape, genital mutilation - need to be implemented.

Colombia follows 15 other countries in Latin America that have passed laws in recent years that define and punish femicide as a specific crime, according to Reuters.

Latin America has the highest femicide rates in the world, according to the Reuters piece. More than half of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in the Americas.

Violence against women is a topic of increasing importance in the region, but laws are often not enough according to social activists.

In June a massive demonstration in Argentina (with accompanying marches in Uruguay and Chile) drew attention to the femicide phenomenon there -- despite a 2009 law. Domestic violence claimed the life of nearly one woman per day last year in Argentina, a total of 277 in 2014. Over the past seven years, the media has reported 1,808 femicides, according to civil society estimates. (See June 4th's post.)

Last month five men in northern Mexico were sentenced to an unprecedented 697 years in prison for the gender-driven killing of 11 women, a landmark precedent in the state of Chihuahua, where hundreds of women have been killed since 1990. The sentence was the longest-ever given for a femicide, the killing of a woman due to her gender and was based on scientific evidence.  (See July 29th's post.) According to official statistics, over the past 28 years in Mexico more than 44,000 women have been murdered, though few perpetrators have been brought to justice.

The killing of social activist Nadia Vera -- who was killed in Mexico city along with photo-journalist Rubén Espinosa, her two flatmates and a woman who was cleaning her apartment at the time -- has drawn attention to attacks on female rights defenders in Mexico and the region, reports The Guardian

Vera was the 36th women’s rights defender – community leaders, social activists and journalists – to be murdered in Mexico since 2010, according to the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders of Mexico (RNDDHM). But the problem isn't confined to Mexico: at least 20 women were killed in the same period in the dangerous triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. In 2012, 414 other attacks, including threats, psychological harassment, excessive force and sexual violence, were registered in the region, according to a study by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders

News Briefs

  • An estimated 10,000 protesters marched against Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa's potential fourth presidential term in Quito yesterday, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Correa-controlled National Assembly is expected in December to approve a change in the Constitution to permit him to run for a fourth term in February 2017 and possibly extend his time in office until 2021. Called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, the protest was one of dozens across the nation this month. The indigenous communities are angered by government policies that reduce education in their native languages. And an estimated 200 indigenous protesters wielding spears in southeastern Ecuador injured eight security force members in a clash over Correa's refusal to consult them on mining and oil drilling on their traditional lands, reports the Associated Press. The LATimes piece goes into Ecuador's political background, including criticisms of freedom of the press and under Correa's government. Yet Correa enjoys a 45 percent approval rating, -- enough for reelection if it holds up, reports the LATimes. Correa enjoys a solid base of support among Ecuador's poor, and even his critics acknowledge his road-building and port expansion program that has facilitated economic growth. Correa's backers counter the indigenous communities' criticism of new educational standards by saying 50,000 more native children are now receiving basic education than when Correa took office
  • The Organization of American States (OAS) sent a delegation to Honduras to promote a dialogue between the government and the opposition to end the country's political crisis, reports TeleSur. Opposition and protest leaders have said that dialogue with President Juan Orlando Hernandez's government can only occur if an international anti-impunity investigation commission is created. The initiative is aimed at looking into high-level corruption allegations that have led to mass demonstrations in the country over the past months, with people in the streets demanding the resignation of Hernandez.
  • State-run banks in Brazil will provide low-interest credit lines to certain industries -- mainly automotive -- the latest tool the government is deploying in order to buoy local industries suffering the country's economic downturn, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • The long-standing water shortage in São Paulo might finally be reaching a critical state reports the Los Angeles Times. Multimillion-dollar emergency construction projects so far failing to ease the situation (which has been going for nearly a year already). A government statement on Tuesday paves the way for the suspension of licenses that allow agriculture, industry and other private concerns to draw directly from area water supplies and could mean official water rationing for residents. Of course, unofficial rationing -- which leaves hundreds of thousands of paolistas without water for hours and days on end -- has been going on for months.
  • The Guardian has a short film on Olympic construction in Rio de Janeiro. A project to house thousands of athletes during the games is the first Latin American project to earn the Leed green building certification for neighborhood development. But critics point to forced evictions that made the space available in Rio's West Zone and to lack of infrastructure in the area's other communities, asking how sustainable such a green development really is.
  • Robert Muggah of Brazil's Igarapé Institute has a piece in The Guardian musing on the difficulties and contradictions of living and working in Rio de Janeiro, where gun violence is disturbingly routine. "It’s remarkable how violence and its avoidance are woven into the daily fabric of Rio. ...I ’m aware of how often we demonise and stigmatise people, we look at perpetrators as perpetrators, people who commit crime and therefore should be punished. But when you start peeling back their stories, what I've found is that they’re not just perpetrators, they’re often victims. They'e often survivors," he writes.
  • Four Colombian soldiers were arrested on Monday after accusations they had tortured a man they falsely accused of being a guerrilla collaborator, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Colombia officially suspended aerial fumigation of illicit coca cultivations with glyphosate in May. But nonetheless the program -- criticized for its use of a carcinogenic substance with damaging human and environmental side-effects -- continues, denounces Astrid Puentes, directora de la Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA) in Confidencial Colombia.
  • The Mexican government is gaining the upper hand against a combative teacher’s union in the southern state of Oaxaca, who have been struggling against a comprehensive education reform. On Tuesday the dissident CNTE teachers union announced it will not stage any protests to disrupt the beginning of the new school year next week, reports El Daily Post. The union has objected to government administration of teacher evaluation testing. The announcement comes after arrest warrants were issued for fifteen CNTE members in Oaxaca, accused of rioting and destroying electoral material during June's polls. (See June 3rd's post.) The government has been on the attack lately: in recent weeks government authorities fired and replaced some 300 CNTE members from management positions at Oaxaca's education agency, reports the Wall Street Journal. The moves are part of a push by the government to face down the dissident teachers, who have gone on strike almost every year since the late 1970s, often paralyzing sections of the country and leaving millions of children without classes. In the past two decades, Oaxaca’s schoolchildren have missed on average 50 out of every 200 days of the school year, far beyond the national absence rate of 10 days a year, explains the WSJ. 
  • Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are investigating Joaquin Badillo, a former candidate of Mexico's Ecological Green Party, who tweeted photos of himself with a haul of more than 20 juvenile sharks, reports the Associated Press.
  • In order to employ all the young people entering the workforce, the Mexican economy must create 100,000 new jobs each month. But monthly new job generation has been well under that, at about 80,000, reports El Daily Post. "What this means in human terms is that every day in Mexico, there are almost 1,000 more young people neither working or studying. This is not a healthy situation — economically or socially — and for that reason México ¿Cómo Vamos?,  the economic observatory group that recently released these figures, has issued a “red light” in its much-watched "#SemáforoEconómico," or Economic Signal."
  • Haitian election authorities disqualified two more candidates for disruptions during legislative elections earlier this month, bringing the total of barred candidates to 16 so far, according to the Associated Press.
  • Current engagement and muffled tit-for-tat between the U.S. and Venezuela amounts to an effort by the Obama administration to bring its Venezuela policy in line with the larger principles of re-emphasizing diplomacy and dialogue with adversaries, argues David Smilde in a World Politcs Review piece he summarizes at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. What is less clear is how effective it will be and how long the policy will last, he writes.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered a 72-hour closure of a major border crossing with Colombia after three soldiers were attacked while looking for smugglers, reports the Associated Press.
  • A tough anti-smoking bill in Chile would force cigarette makers to use identical packaging covered in chilling anti-smoking ads, limit smoking at beaches and parks to small, designated areas. But the proposed law, which would also ban menthol cigarettes, the flavor of choice for 40 percent of Chilean smokers, has provoked a backlash from the powerful tobacco industry, reports AFP.
  • The New York Times has a feature on a Chilean policy that incorporates intercultural health care in areas of the country with indigenous populations. Though the indigenous health care providers in the south of the country mostly serve the Mapuche community, in Santiago they now cater to a predominantly non-indigenous population.
  • New public wifi spots in Cuba have residents excitedly experimenting with technology to connect to the world and family and friends living abroad, reports the Wall Street Journal. The service is one of Cuba's first initiatives to improve connectivity since embarking on a plan to normalize relations with the U.S -- though access to certain sites, like 14ymedio, an online newspaper run by dissident journalist Yoani Sánchez, are still blocked. 
  • Pope Francis could meet with Colombian rebel FARC leaders during his upcoming September Cuba trip, reports La Nación. Though it's not on the official agenda, the head of Colombia's bishops said it was a possibility, after the head of the Havana FARC negotiating team Iván Márquez voiced a desire to greet the pope. On Monday the FARC's peace delegation in Havana also met with Argentine Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former International Criminal Court prosecutor and assistant prosecutor in Argentina's landmark "Trial of the Juntas." Moreno Ocampo said the guerrilla leaders must be punished for their crimes, but that doesn't necessarily mean common jail and could open the door to a transitional justice deal.
  • And the Argentine Pontiff may have waded into the perennial Falklands/Malvinas debate. He was photographed holding a sign advocating dialogue over the disputed islands, reports the Associated Press. In his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio sometimes spoke in nationalistic terms about the islands. Since becoming pope in 2013, however, Francis has refrained from talking about the dispute.
  • As currencies around Latin America take significant hits against a strong dollar, Animal Políticohas a piece examining who the winner and the losers of the current financial situation are.

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