The Guardian

Guatemala sexual slavery verdict shows women’s bodies are not battlefields

Op-ed published at the Newspaper  The Guardian on February 29th 2016.

Two men have been found guilty for enslaving indigenous women in Sepur Zarco in a case symbolising a wider battle for Latin America women

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The word muxuk refers to a woman who has been “desecrated”, a woman whose “social and spiritual world was destroyed and broken in all of the areas of her life”. In the Q’eqchi’ language there are four ways to refer to sexual violence, yet muxuk is the term Guatemalan women of the Sepur Zarco community have chosen to use when talking about the war crimes perpetrated against them.

Neither Spanish nor English have the words to describe precisely the horrors these women experienced in 1982, during the Guatemalan armed conflict.

The Sepur Zarco trial was groundbreaking for three reasons. Unlike other trials involving sexual violence during armed conflicts – such as the cases in Rwanda(pdf) and former Yugoslavia – the proceedings were conducted entirely by a national court.

The verdict has set a precedent for treating domestic and sexual slavery as war crimes – something that is crucial for the advancement of transitional justice in many Latin American countries.

And it seeks to build a standard of proof based on the testimony of survivors – important because, in a case like this, where the events occurred more than 30 years ago, little physical evidence is available.

Like many conflicts in Latin America, what happened in Sepur Zarco was a battle over the ownership of territory – both land and women’s bodies.

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Honduran women refuse to be silenced in face of yet another setback

Article published on March 18th, 2015 in The Guardian

Even in a country where struggle is a way of life for feminists, the imprisonment of the celebrated women’s rights defender Gladys Lanza marks a fresh low

ladys Lanza, a Honduran feminist activist, was recently convicted of defamation for defending a woman who accused a Honduran government official of sexual harassment. The verdict is aimed at sending a powerful message to all defenders of women’s rights in the country: “If you don’t want to be prosecuted, stay silent.”

In Honduras, violent deaths among women increased by 263.4% from 2005 to 2013. In 2009, the year of the coup d’état, femicide rose by 62%, while in 2013, a woman was murdered somewhere in the country every 15 hours. Between 2012 and 2013, 525 cases of harassment against women’s rights activists were documented. From 2009 to 2012, victims filed 82,547 accusations of domestic violence, 92% of which came from women. In 2013 alone, 2,851 charges of sexual violence were filed. More than 90% of cases end up with no conviction. The work of women’s rights activists is more important than ever.

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