Norma Cruz Fights to End the Killing of Guatemalan Women

Date: 2009-03-06
Norma Cruz Fights to End the Killing of Guatemalan Women
Survivors Foundation aims to turn the rising tide of violent deaths

Washington — In Guatemala, on average, two women each day die a violent death. That rate has more than doubled since 2000, and the murder of women often involves rape, torture, mutilation or dismemberment.

Norma Cruz, co-founder and director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Survivors Foundation, has provided emotional, social and legal support to hundreds of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and to the families of murdered women. In 2007 alone, her foundation helped find, prosecute and convict 30 individuals accused of murdering women. The NGO runs a victims’ shelter — one of only a handful in the country — and also fights to protect mothers whose babies are stolen as the first link in an illegal and lucrative supply chain for international adoptions.

The increasing number of killings of women in Guatemala, Cruz says, is tied to the poverty that is the aftermath of Guatemala’s civil war and to narco-trafficking. Gangsters are known to kill the female family members of rival gangs, often as an initiation rite, with little fear of legal retribution because these crimes are underreported and underinvestigated. Less than 3 percent are prosecuted.

The more common police response, according to a former member of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, is the assertion that a victim was a prostitute, a gang member, engaged in criminal activities or provoked the killer with infidelity.

Under pressure from groups including the Survivors Foundation, the U.N.-led International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was approved by the Guatemalan Congress in August 2008. It is too early to gauge the effect of the commission, but it could be an important tool in combating the targeted killing of women.

These advances have been achieved at enormous personal risk to the activists and their families. But, as Cruz told a Human Rights Commission delegate, “We’re not going to allow one more woman to die.”

Cruz was recently the subject of an urgent Amnesty International appeal after one of her relatives was abducted and assaulted in what appeared to be an attempt to intimidate her and the foundation. Cruz has received many death threats, and her home and office have been watched.

Her commitment to the Survivors Foundation despite these risks has given voice to hundreds of victims, generated reforms and inspired other groups and individuals, inside and outside Guatemala, to turn the tide of violence and impunity in the Central American nation.

Cruz’s achievements earned her the U.S. secretary of state’s 2009 International Women of Courage Award. The award, founded in 2007 by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, celebrates exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and advancement. (See “United States Recognizes Women of Courage.”)

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