Saturday, June 28, 2008

Human Rights Accompaniment Report: Fabienne Doiron (Part 1) (2008)

¡Saludos calurosos a tod@s ustedes!
¡Espero que se encuentren bien!

First off, I want to thank all of you who have been replying to my emails or written to send words of encouragement and support. It's always great to get news from family and friends, but hearing from you and knowing you read and take interest in what I'm doing takes on a new dimension knowing that a large part of the impact of my work here as an accompanier depends on sharing what I am learning here with folks like you: people back home who care... so, thanks!

I am still volunteering with ACOGUATE-CAIG, working in a team that is based in the city, meeting very inspiring people and organisations in various parts of the country. I have been meaning to write an update for a while now, but things have been so busy lately that it took being away from the world of "rapi-com" (read: rapid communication) for 10 days in a community with no running water, electricity or cell phone signal to finally sit down and write it, old-school style (by hand!)... So here it is!

¡Cuidense mucho!
En solidaridad,

***If you want peace, work for justice***


Today is International Women's Day, but here, the day started much as it usually does: Doña Juana and her eldest daughter (who is 15 years old) got up an hour - or more - before everyone else to get things underway: bring corn to the mill for the tortillas, start the fire, fetch water, start making tortillas and cooking breakfast...

Once we had eaten, Doña Juana's husband left for the milpa (cornfield) as she sat down to embroider a cloth and I helped the nine-year old daughter with the dishes. (I try to help out as much as I can, but when I volunteer to do something, I am mostly assigned the tasks of a 9 year-old ... my tortilla-making skills are getting better though!)

Basically, it is a day like any other in a rural Guatemalan household. And - statistically speaking at least - Doña Juana is a woman like many others in Guatemala: indigenous, mostly unilingual (she understands Spanish but speaks it very little), illiterate, mother of 11 children, from a campesino (small-farmer) family, living near, or under the poverty line. What does set her apart is the struggle for justice which she has been fighting relentlessly for over three years.

In December 2004, Doña Juana was arrested and jailed in arbitrary circumstances after police discovered a poppy plantation near her home (the charges against her were eventually dismissed). After spending over a month in detention in Chimaltenango, Doña Juana was transferred to Nebaj, Quiche on January 17, 2005, where she would make her first statement before a judge. Because they had arrived in Nebaj after the courthouse had closed, the PNC (Policia Nacional Civil - National Civilian Police) officers who had transferred her decided to keep her at the regional police station overnight to appear before a judge in the morning.

It was in the Nebaj police station, that Doña Juana, sadly, once again became part of the statistics. According to a study completed by the Instituto de Estudios Comparativos en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala (ICCPG - the Institute for Comparative Studies in Penal Studies of Guatemala), 75% of women incarcerated in this country are sexually abused and/or raped by agents of the state while in preventive detention.

During the night of January 17 and the early morning of the 18, Doña Juana was repeatedly sexually assaulted, abused, raped, humiliated and then threatened with death if she spoke about it.The incident involved at least two police officers who participated directly and was witnessed by at least one other officer who eventually decided to testify in the case despite having been the victim of numerous threats and intimidation.

On the morning of January 18th, when Doña Juana finally did appear before a judge, she did not hesitate in reporting the incident (43% of women who suffer sexual abuse in Guatemalan prisons do report the incident).

The investigation process was plagued by threats, attacks and intimidation against all parties involved. In April 2007, the ICCPG - who is co-plaintiff in the case and has supported Doña Juana throughout the legal proceedings - requested accompaniment from ACOGUATE as a result of the numerous threats and incidents of intimidation they had received because of their participation in the trial.

After a lengthy and complicated process, the trial against Antonio Rutilio Matías Lopez for aggravated rape and abuse of power finally began in Santa Cruz del Quiche on February 18, 2008: more than three years after Doña Juana had first reported the abuses to which she had been subjected. The other accused, Nery Osberto Aldana Rodríguez, is still at large.

This is where Doña Juana's case is different from the rest: in fact, it is a first!

Despite the fact that 75% of women who are incarcerated suffer sexual abuse at the hands of their custodians and although 43% of them report it:

  • Never before has a police officer been brought to trial for having raped a detainee.

  • Never before had the PNC's disciplinary tribunal found an officer guilty of rape (which it did in May 2006).

  • Never before had the PNC's disciplinary tribunal recognised rape as a form of torture (which it did in the May 2006 ruling).

  • According to the ICCPG and other women's groups supporting Doña Juana, this case has the potential to break the complete impunity in which these crimes are committed and to begin to dismantle the complicated network inside the PNC's structure that fosters this impunity.

    This is a trial without precedent. In a country where violence against women is rampant to the point of haven taken the extreme form of feminicide, it is a crucial precedent to be set. In the past eight years, feminicide has claimed the lives of at least 3,379 women. Only very few of these cases are ever investigated and fewer yet are solved. Most often than not, the women are implicitly – or explicitly – blamed by the authorities and the news media for the crimes to which they are victims.

    As Doña Juana has affirmed, justice is needed for these crimes against women to cease: "Quiero que se haga justicia, no quiero que a ninguna mujer le vuelva a pasar lo que a mi me paso porque no es justo" "I want justice to be done, I do not want what happenned to me to happen again to any other woman, because it is not right."