By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New guidelines will help Colombian forensic experts and prosecutors investigating violence against women and femicide to win more convictions and reduce the high rate of murders of women, government officials say.
Of the 637 women killed in Colombia so far this year, 83 were femicides – defined as the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender - government figures show.
Femicide is a widespread problem in Latin America as a whole, according to a 2012 report by the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project in Geneva, based on figures from 2004 to 2009. More than half the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in the Americas.
The main group guilty of femicide are victims' current or former partners, family members or friends, the report said.
Many countries in the region have given femicide a legal definition in recent years, with convictions carrying jail sentences of more than 20 years. They include Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador - which has the world’s highest femicide rate.
Colombia could soon follow their example. A bill proposed by a group of women lawmakers is being considered in Colombia’s congress.
“It’s hoped that congress will approve a bill that makes femicide a specific crime with a prison sentence of 30 years or more. We believe there’s a favorable climate to get the bill passed,” Martha Lucia Sanchez, women’s rights secretary at the mayor’s office in Bogota, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences will launch new protocols later this month, which outline techniques for carrying out autopsies on women who have been killed and guidelines on clues to possible femicide, such as torture, rape, genital mutilation and dismembered body parts.
The new protocol will help raise awareness of femicide and improve the collection of autopsy evidence "to ensure femicide, which has particular characteristics, is distinguished from other violent deaths of women,” Sanchez said.
“There’s a tendency to confuse femicide with other types of killings of women, which leads to impunity and less jail time for perpetrators. In some cases femicides are described as crimes of passion that involve infidelity or were the result of a fight, which can be a way of justifying and playing down crimes against women,” she added.
Colombia’s National Institute of Legal Medicine has said it plans to train 400 doctors in the new protocols, and forensic experts will be required to detail the specific circumstances in which women have been killed, including domestic and sexual violence, or as a result of armed conflict or organized crime.
FEMICIDE AS A SPECIFIC CRIME
“Femicide is a growing phenomenon in the region and while it’s not unique to the Americas we find it’s particularly critical here,” said Anna Coates, acting regional director of the United Nations women’s rights agency for the Americas and Caribbean.
“We see inequality resulting from gender stereotyping and discrimination, and a cultural acceptability of violence against women and girls, as well as issues with security as a whole in the region, organized crime and human trafficking, contributing to overall violence ... against women and girls in public and private spaces,” Coates told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview in Panama City.
UN Women and the UN human rights office recently launched a model protocol to guide investigations and prosecutions of crimes against women and femicides as part of efforts to address the high level of violence against women in Latin America.
Brazil is one of several countries in the region working to integrate the UN protocol into its laws, Coates said.
"The objective of the protocol is to take a decisive step to end impunity – which in some of our countries reaches 98 percent of all reported cases – by providing the implementation guidelines to the operators of justice and thus sending a clear message of zero tolerance of violence against women," she said.
(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; editing by Tim Pearce)