Embassy of Guatemala
Ambassador Mr. Luis Raúl Estévez López
Javastraat 44, 2585 AP ’S-Gravenhage
The Hague, April 5th 2017
Dear Mr. Luis Raúl Estévez López,
The members of WO=MEN, Dutch Gender Platform address you in your role of Ambassador of Guatemala, echoing the many voices that have observed with perplexity, grief and repudiation the tragedy that took place Wednesday 8th March in the Safe Home Virgen de la Asunción in Guatemala.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, 50 girls tried to escape from the centre and, after being recaptured, they were locked up and surveilled by hundreds of police officers. As a fire started and spreaded after protests on March 8th, these same state agents prevented the evacuation of the girls in what is one of the most terrible tragedies in Guatemala recently. A tragedy that up to today has cost the lives of more than 40 girls.
A tragedy that clearly did not begin with the fire – which by the result of negligence and normalisation of violence towards these children was not controlled as would have been necessary to safeguard them – but had started long ago, as these girls and boys were unforgivably mistreated, verbally, physically and sexually abused. In this centre, wrongly named ‘safe home’ Virgin of the Assumption, those vulnerable girls in need of protection were retraumatised and abused by those who should have protected them. In a punitive act against those who faced the abuse and said “enough”, the state agents in charge of the centre – who are part of a system that allows the abuse of the vulnerable – are responsible of ending the life of many of these young girls and endangering the rest of them by preventing the prompt evacuation and even hampering access to firefighters to extinguish the fire on time.
We witnessed with sorrow that what happened March 8th was not just a fire, but an act of structural violence against these girls and young women. This was a feminicide perpetrated by the forces of the state of Guatemala, the apex of a system that tolerates abuse, mistreatment and sexual exploitation of girls in institutions that should be shelters and support for the most vulnerable, but are instead cradles of corruption and lack the resources and political will necessary to ensure the appropriate care and help that these young people need.
We request that the government of Guatemala:
- Takes immediate action to protect survivors and that the Judicial Entity (Organismo Judicial) is required to treat them as protected witnesses;
- That the full rights of survivors are guaranteed, as well as the care and protection they require corresponding to the traumatic events that they suffered;
- That CICIG is part of the investigation, that immediate judicial action is taken to preserve forensic information from the scenes of the crime, and the preventive detention of those responsible for the tragedy under the charges of femicide.
The investigation into the massacre of the 8th March and the sustained abuse at the centre ’Safe Home Virgen de la Asunción’ should answer the following questions:
- Why was the National Police in control of the centre, and why did they not let the firemen in or the girls leave when it was clear there was a fire;
- Why did the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture not present the complaints received about the centre to the Public Ministry;
- Why did the National Council of Adoptions not monitor this centre, despite the existing complaints;
We are witnesses of history, and as such we remind the Guatemalan government that the world has its eyes open, and that the massacre that took place on 8th March 2017 will not be ignored.
WO=MEN, Dutch Gender Platform
What is WO=MEN?
WO=MEN, Dutch Gender Platform is Europeans largest network of gender justice, women’s rights-,development- and diaspora organisations, activists, military, police, academics and entrepreneurs. Together we aim for gender justice and women’s rights worldwide. More information: www.wo-men.nl