UN names new head to anti-impunity commission in Guatemala amid challenges


The UN named Ivan Velasquez to take the helm of the International Commission against impunity in Guatemala.  Created in 2006 with a treaty-level agreement between then President Oscar Berger (2004-2008) and the United Nations, the goal of the committee is to support offices like the public ministry, to strengthen the judicial sector and combat corrupt parallel structures working within the government apparatus.  One of its key cases was investigating the death of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, which nearly brought down the government of the former President Alvaro Colom (2008-2012)

Ivan Velasquez is a Colombian prosecutor with decades of experience investigating human rights violations and crimes committed by the paramilitaries.  According to analysts from Insight Crime, Velasquez is a recognized anti-impunity crusader who continued his plight amid intimidation from elites and as colleagues were murdered; “a proven track record in taking on not only criminal elements, but also their allies in the state — which will be critical to success in Guatemala, where corruption is one of the main elements fuelling impunity.”

His naming comes at a volatile time in Guatemala where legislators and officials have been maneuvering to get the unpopular commission expelled before the end of its mandate in 2015.

Prior to the creation of CICIG, Guatemala had a 98 percent impunity rate. The commission and purging of the public ministry under Attorney General Claudia Paz has reduced that figure dramatically by over 23 percent.

Velasquez is expected to take the helm in October.

An exchange trip: a journey of learning, a journey of change!


By Sandra Moncada Diaz, delegate of the 2013 Mujeres Adelante program.

In June 2013, I was nominated for an exchange program in Washington State, with the mission to strengthen and share knowledge about violence against women.

This meeting had and continues to have as its main objective, to create a network of women from Central American and the Dominican Republic, that work together to eradicate violence against women.

This program provided the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences about the situation of women in each country. This opportunity also allowed us to learn more about the US’s current situation of domestic violence, and their commitment to ending it. In Nicaragua “we see domestic violence as violence against women, its one more expression of violence against women”.

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Seguir Adelante, a personal account of Guatemala, by Caitlin Terashima

Seattle University and the Seattle International Foundation carried out a research trip with ten student fellows to assess the impact of Asociacion Generando, one of SIF’s grantees working to end violence against women. Student’s analyzed how women’s leadership in Guatemala is a catalyst for long-term social change. Below is a reflection from Caitlin Terashima.  

Along with ten of my peers, three professors from Seattle University, and Michele Frix from the Seattle International Foundation, I travelled south to Guatemala this past June. I was selected as a student research fellow to investigate the impact of one of SIF’s grantees, Generando (ASOGEN), an organization based in Chimaltenango working to end violence against women.

Once I returned home, people would ask me “how was Guatemala?”, and I struggled to respond. Guatemala was beautiful. The countryside is lush, green, and stunning. The people I met are hardworking and kind. ASOGEN is creating social change within the country, and their work is inspiring. However, I also witnessed a very troubled side Guatemala. The Guatemala in which over 50% of women will experience violence from men in their lifetime. The Guatemala in which 98% of femicide cases, the murder of a woman because of her gender, remain in impunity. The Guatemala that is amidst a war against women.

Caitlin and ASOGEN staff

I struggled to reconcile the two Guatemala’s that I grew to know over the 11 days that I was there. There was so much violence, fear, and injustice that I was hearing about and experiencing on a daily basis. I found myself at points getting caught up in, what it felt like, hopelessness. And yet, I was so movtivated by the women that were siguiendo adelenate, continuing forward. I watched women who were labeled as victims; show us that they were not victims, but survivors. These women were seeking to change Guatemala, not only for themselves, but for their families. I remember sitting with one of the beneficiaries, as she told me and my interview partner her story. Through tears, she told me that she had to set an example for her sons by leaving her husband. She told me that her dream for her sons is that they don’t treat their wives and girlfriends as she had been treated, that they treated them well, as they deserved. The tears continued to stream down her face, but these weren’t the tears of a victim, they were the tears of a survivor that was breaking the cycle of abuse and showing her sons the importance of respecting the rights of both men and women.

Despite the trip being a whirlwhind of emotions, what struck me most about it was ASOGEN’s impact. The number of women that we interviewed who constantly thanked us for supporting ASOGEN and the work that they are doing was countless. They were thankful not only for the necessary services provided or the workshops, but also for the act of attentive accompaniment. The women working for Generando are so dedicated to their work and to the cause, and the responses from the beneficiaries reflected this.  In concluding our interview, we asked if she had any additional comments. After remaining quiet for a minute, she said that thanks to ASOGEN, she now knows that “no estoy sola,”she is not alone, but that they are there to support her.

Join Seattle University faculty and students, as they present the images and findings of their research trip in Guatemala. The exhibition features photos from Sy Bean and Claire Garuette. The event is sponsored by the Matteo Ricci College’s Poverty Education Center, in partnership with the Seattle International Foundation. 

Why violence against women in Guatemala matters to all women


By: Michele Frix, Director of Programs, Seattle International Foundation

Original article in Spanish featured in the September issue of LOOK Magazine, Guatemala. 

Many are surprised to learn that Guatemala is one of the most violent countries in the world, especially for women and girls. When I explain my work with women in Guatemala to my family and friends in Seattle, people are often shocked to hear that in a country not so far away from their own, women and girls are being brutalized, kidnapped, raped, and targeted for trafficking for a simple, yet innocent reason – their gender.

Some blame it on an impassioned fight with a jealous boyfriend, her rumored connection with a rival gang, or even a belly button ring and red finger nail polish.  But domestic violence strikes the homes of those we least expect, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status, like the case of Cristina Siekavizza.

Gender-based violence is not an isolated phenomenon. It is a multidimensional problem where unequal power relations between men and women have led to discrimination against women throughout all aspects of society. Violence is one of the key social mechanisms by which women experience this discrimination.  And it’s a global problem. From the emblematic gang-rape case in India, to the violence haunting Syrian women in refugee camps, to indiscriminate violence against women as a tool of warfare in the Congo – gender-based violence is a global phenomenon, requiring a global response.

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This blog was created to support the Central America Network and encourage dialogue around relevant research, news and poverty alleviation efforts in the region.
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