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By Quimy De Leon; translated and adapted by Virginia López Calvo

Miguel Ángel Gálvez Judge presides over the court of First Instance located on the 14th floor of the Tower of Courts in the center of Guatemala City.

On Tuesday October 14, 2014, after three hearings with the Public Affairs Ministry, the prosecutor, the plaintiffs and the defense of two accused military officers, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez decided, following an analysis of the law in light of the evidence, testimony and arguments, that army colonel Esteelmer Giron Reyes and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij will have to attend an oral and public trial.

Esteelmer Reyes Francisco Girón is accused of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual slavery and domestic slavery, murder and humiliating treatment. Heriberto Valdes Asij is accused of forced disappearances and sexual violence.

The historical truth will be heard at a trial in October 29. Until then, both accused remain in preventative prison.

Justice for victims of rape and sexual slavery

Sepur Zarco is a community in the municipality of El Curtain in Izabal. There, a military detachment was built during the hardest years of war and genocide, in 1982 [1]. There, crimes against humanity were committed, rape and sexual slavery of about 20 women amongst them. Some of these women had their husbands and relatives killed or disappeared too.

Women who dared not to allow these crimes to go unpunished, who dared to speak and go through a series of difficult moments and cumbersome procedures, encourage us to reflect and defend truth and memory.

From the first hearing, the women covered themselves in colourful fabrics to face their perpetrators. They did not come alone, but accompanied by several people, by community women, by women’s organizations that make up the Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity. In the last three hearings only their representative arrived to court.

While justice arrives

To get into the Tower of Courts is not a nice experience. Whenever I’ve done it, it has always been to accompany a high-impact case, related to human rights violations.

Knowing and understanding how power operates is creepy. Not less than understanding how the justice system and its laws work. Most times I could see beyond the discourse that works to the benefit of the powerful, and through the patriarchal structures in politics, the military, society, religion and the economy. These hearings are landmarks in Guatemalan collective memory and feminist struggles.

[1] The detachment was closed in 1988.

Read previous articles about the Sepur Zarco case here and here.

By Helen Porter

Helen completed her PhD in Latin American Studies at the University of Liverpool. She has spent extended periods researching young peoples’ lives in Nicaragua and Bolivia and currently works researching projects working with young people involved in gangs in London.

‘Dale con todo Helen!’ or ‘Give it everything’, they shouted as I took my run up to the ball and struck with all the power I could muster. More often than not it dribbled harmlessly wide, but the cries of encouragement from my team mates and compañeras del equipo never failed to motivate, and once in a long while I was even rewarded with a ‘Golaazoo’. I had joined a women’s football team whilst researching my PhD in Leon, Nicaragua. To put it more accurately, researching the lives of the young women on the team had become my PhD, while training four times a week with matches on a Sunday followed by sun burn and sore muscles had become my daily routine as I played out the season with UNAN Leon during 2008.

Organised women’s football has existed in Nicaragua since 1960, but it is only more recently that the game has become the number one sport for women and girls, and the total number of registered players has grown from 800 in 2000 to over 7000 in 2006. Since 1998 the national championship has averaged around eight to ten teams from around the country. Popularity is growing but development is slow and limited largely by economic and cultural barriers.

There are strong motivations for girls and women to participate. Overwhelmingly football is an opportunity to escape the hassles and stress of everyday life, as well as a chance to socialise and relax with friends. A match day, for instance, is more than just the 90 minutes of football; it often involves travelling to towns and cities across Nicaragua that the players may have never visited, and it offers a unique opportunity to get to know their country. The main problem for women’s football teams
competing in the national league is a lack of funding, and they generally have to rely on the support of the players’ families and the institutions that they represent.

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Perhaps more difficult to surmount though is the opposition girls and women face from wider society and deeply entrenched norms relating to appropriate behaviour for females. Ye Mehrdesto Besser started playing at age 12 and experienced playing in both the Nicaraguan Women’s First Division and representing her country at national level: ‘For me, it’s a way to relax and get away from stresses’.

The players often face opposition from the family, who see football as a waste of time and distraction from domestic responsibilities, while members of the public shout abuse such as ‘marimacha’ or ‘masculine Mary’ – a term used to describe lesbians in parts of Latin America. Indeed, social norms around appropriate behaviour for males and females features strongly in the opposition young women experience playing football and emanates from both the household and the street. But the players have been able to surmount this opposition to their participation: ‘The most difficult thing was to be accepted by other people, especially men’. Quickly they began to change wider opinion, ‘We won respect from others as we started to win games and showed we were committed to playing; then people realised that women can also do things that men do.’

Contemporary history in Nicaragua tells a story of a contradictory place for women; participation by women fighting for the FSLN during the revolution led to an image of militant motherhood and women had an unprecedented profile in politics and society. However, years of poverty, austerity and neoliberal economic scarcity followed.

Daniel Ortega’s return to leadership brought hope of a serious challengeto poverty and inequality, and his government has introduced some impressive gender policies such as gender quotas for political parties.However, teenage pregnancy rates, maternal mortality, domestic abuse and femicide, and a ban on therapeutic abortion continue to be serious problems. In addition, the government’s oppressive approach to organisations associated with the women’s movement has met with condemnation and withdrawal of funding from international donors. It is in this climate that female participation in football is able to establish a new arena for participation in public life and challenge traditional ideas of gendered roles and responsibilities.

While motherhood is an important part of their identity, these young women footballers prioritise education and independent financial security as essential to their futures. Unlike their male counterparts, women footballers have to study to survive, as Ye explains: ‘Most men play for money but we don’t have this luxury. For most of us we have to study to earn our money’. Playing for a university team in Nicaragua gives these female footballers the opportunity of a scholarship to study, and in some cases they are given accommodation and spending money.

Whilst playing football may be a means to an ends for many young women, it is clear, given the opposition they have encountered from wider society, they are challenging norms of behaviour. Moreover, they are taking advantage of a unique opportunity to achieve higher education qualifications, the possibility of accessing better paid work, and they are thoroughly enjoying the physical and social benefits of playing, along the way.

By Ninha Silva 

Wartime sexual violence is a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of victims across the world. Patterns of this occurrence led scholars to believe that women represent the highest risk of sexual violence as they are “targeted more often in ways that are directly linked to their gender and sexual identity and to their identity as the bearers and protectors of a community’s culture and future generations” (L.Leiby, 2009). In Guatemala, where indigenous people form 51% of the Guatemalan population, during the thirty six years of civil war that wiped the country, from over 200,000 assassinations and disappearances that were accounted, 83% were committed against the indigenous Maya Ixil population (Freedom House). For these figures, might contribute the fact that, the first years of the armed conflict were intense in the Maya’s territory, but also the fact that, compared to the national population, these communities were out casted and disadvantaged in many ways, specifically in political and economic areas.

State officials’ claim unawareness on the numbers and cases of sexual violence, which are extremely common and forces one to question how widespread violence and violation of human rights can occur without being noticed. As in Guatemala, countries such as Peru, Aghanistan and Central African Republic, allow a culture of anonymity and permissiveness that benefits the perpetrator, giving them confidence to carry on with their crimes without fear of being caught and brought to justice.

From the 10th to the 13th of June, London was stage for the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict. A very well intentioned agenda emphasized the active participation of women in maintaining peace and security; as well as the involvement of civil society in engaging their communities in the prevention and response to sexual violence; and the commitment of faith groups providing care, treatment and support for survivors.

Nevertheless, in a time when Guatemala waits to resume the trial of General Rios Montt, who it is believed to have been responsible for half of all human rights violations (Amnesty International) carried out during the thirty six years of conflict, critics would expect that the summit would focus in outlining mechanisms to reinforce state agents’ accountability and methods, and in analysing thoroughly the cooperation between international institutions and governments in order to change the legislation and bring justice to all victims of sexual violence during the internal armed conflict.

Chaired by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie, the summit brought together 1,700 delegates and 129 country delegations, international organizations, over 1000 experts, members of civil society, faith leaders and youth organizations. As result of the summit, it was signed a Statement of Action, which main purpose is to turn political commitment into practical actions and bring up a range of reforms in the legal, humanitarian and security sectors.

All the efforts put in this summit to determine practical steps to tackle rape in wartime conflict, should be recognised, however, it is crucial to understand the real impact of this meeting, in the life of hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual violence. It is equally imperative to define what will change in Guatemala’s government accountability, and which changes will be undertaken in its legislation. It is decisive that the government commits to be actively involved reinforcing accountability in different levels, as seems to be the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, which launched a National Strategy to Fight Sexual Violence and National Action Plan on ending sexual violence in conflict respectively, with the support of their ministers.

Throughout the summit, it was pledged a stronger involvement from the civil society and women in the public sphere. However, the fact that first certain preconditions need to be created to allow women to participate freely in the society and effectively in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery seem to be overlooked. In a patriarchal society such as Guatemala, it is important to create infrastructures and means to protect women that risk their life when stepping forward to denounce perpetrators of sexual violence, being high profile or not. Likewise, women’s movements should be encouraged to demonstrate and protect their rights, without fear of condemnation or attack.

Data suggests that in Guatemala, during the civil war, rape was the most frequent form of abuse, constituting 84 percent of all sexual violations (L. Leiby,2009) and most of the cases were undertaken by agents of the state[1]. It is stated in the summit’s document that “Ministers of Defence should take responsibility for preventing sexual violence by their armed forces”. The first problem that arises here, is that it seems unlikely to hold anyone accountable without a mechanism of control and denunciation inside the armed forces; second, in large amount of rape cases that became public in Guatemala, it was proved that commanders used intimidation and punishment against officers that refused to sexually abuse women (L.Leiby, 2009:459). Therefore, it is necessary to create a system of control extended to officials in the highest levels of command, in which they are taken to trial in a federal court or in a court-martial, whether they order or undertake any kind of sexual crime.

The summit’s deliverables seem to centre in setting up a book of rules and not so much in defining and applying mechanisms of reinforcement of state actions. So, the question that poses now is, how  international law and institutions are going to be applied to Guatemala’s state and judicial system in order to condemn all individuals accused of sexual violence, and bring justice to the victims.

[1] According to UN’s Truth Commission, state forces were responsible for 93 percent of violations documented

By  · Red Light Rio 

The Observatory of Prostitution is pleased to announce the publication of our preliminary report of findings on the World Cup’s effect on sex commerce and sex tourism in Rio de Janeiro.

The vast majority of sex workers we spoke with in Rio de Janeiro considered the World Cup to be bad for business. Despite the presence of significant numbers of Brazilian and foreign tourists in Rio, there was a general decline in sexual commerce during the 32 days of the event. Of the 83 points of prostitution we visited, only six maintained a normal flow of customers during the games. Another 17 experienced an increase in business. Sixty points, including Vila Mimosa, where some 1,000 women work, experienced an estimated decline of 30-50%, in terms of the number of clients frequenting these points, during the 32 days of the games from June 12 to July 13.

We attribute this decline to six factors:

1.     The closure of commerce in downtown Rio due to a series of government-declared holidays during the World Cup.

2.     The dependence of prostitution in downtown Rio (home to the largest concentration of prostitutes and sex work venues in the city) and Vila Mimosa (the city’s only concentrated red light district) on local clients who work in city center and who did not circulate through downtown Rio during these holidays.

3.     The absence of foreign clients, who did not replace local clients at these venues. Foreign tourists largely restricted their movements in Rio to the South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, to Lapa and to the Maracanã Stadium, avoiding downtown and Vila Mimosa all together.

4.     The fact that many foreign tourists who visited Rio were from Latin American countries that are as poor or poorer than Brazil. These tourists had little money to spend in Rio.

5.     The high prices throughout Rio and particularly in the South Zone, which prohibited many tourists from spending their money on non-essentials.

6.     Many of the single men who visited Rio during the World Cup were much more interested in spending their time and money conversing and drinking with male friends than in purchasing sexual services.

Please read on in our full report, which you can download in English and Portuguese:

http://bit.ly/ObservatoriodaProstituicao_RelatorioCopadoMundo (Portuguese)

For any inquiries about our work over World Cup, please send an email observatoriodaprostituicao@gmail.com.

(photo courtesy of  Matias Maxx)

By Louise Morris 

This series of articles aims to highlight how alternative media can be used to provide a space for women’s voices, rights and empowerment in Central America while recognising the limits to accessing media and participating in producing media content that many women still face.

The rapid increase and spread of Information Communication Technologies and Internet access globally has made it easy to slip into digital determinism – the optimistic attitude that every problem finds its solution through technology. Advances in technology have revolutionised journalism, leading to 24 hour reporting and a plethora of alternative news sources – world events now reach Twitter faster than the mainstream press.

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by Quimy De Leon – Community Newspapers

translated by Verity Powell, CAWN

The courtroom of “Primera Instancia de Mayor Riesgo B” was full on Tuesday 24 June 2014. Present were Mayan women, human rights defenders and journalists. The courtroom is on the 14th Floor in the Tower of Courts in the centre of the capital city. The court is presided over by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez. Today marks an historic day, as the first public hearing against army Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij begins.

The two men are accused of being responsible for the rape and sexual slavery of “15 Mayan Q’eqchi women, and the disappearance of more than 20 people.” [1] They are accused of crimes against humanity. Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón is also accused of murder, whilst Heriberto Valdez Asij is also accused of the forced disappearance of men and women.

The majority of people in attendance at the hearing were indigenous women, representatives from women’s organizations, human rights organizations and the media. The two accused men were sat together with their legal defence. The defence expected to make their first statement to the judge, however proceedings were delayed until 3rd October, when they will continue in the same courtroom.

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Translated by CAWN

Different groups of the Women’s Movement of Nicaragua address the authorities and the public to express our concern at the plight of femicide and sexual violence experienced by women in Nicaragua.

The Observatory of the Red de Mujeres contra la Violencia [Women Against Violence’s Network], recorded a total of thirty women killed in the first quarter of 2014, of whom five had previously had mediation. This is alarming and should put on alert all institutions of the State of Nicaragua, as we experience violence against women constantly, and it becomes particularly acute in times of emergency, since disaster prevention measures pay no specific attention to women in these circumstances.

The statistics have names of Nicaraguan women and will remain written in this and many other documents of demand, to create awareness among representatives, responsible for carrying forward laws and policies to reverse this situation of feminist alert.

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