Protecting women against gender-based violence is too often overlooked as a global human rights issue. On the surface, Latin America may look like an exception. All of the region’s countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and 14 have ratified the convention’s optional protocol that permits a special U.N. committee to monitor states’ compliance. Latin American countries have also committed to treaties such as the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, which affirms that gender-based violence constitutes a violation of women’s human rights and fundamental freedom.
Yet too many Latin American states are lagging behind in actually implementing these measures to protect women and end femicide, or what U.N. defines as the violent and deliberate killing of women. According to a Small Arms Survey report, Latin America is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world.
Why have Latin America’s commitments not always translated into effective laws or the political will needed to uphold international obligations? In 2008, nine Latin American countries had special legislation on femicide. By 2015, 16 countries in the region had modified their laws to include a specific type of crime referring to the murder of women. However, the laws and practices set to convict perpetrators of femicide are still extremely weak.
Part of the problem of legal implementation stems from how vaguely different countries treat femicide. Unlike in Colombia, for example, in Nicaragua and Chile, the murder of women is not considered femicide if the victim has no relationship to the perpetrator. Mexico has also been unclear on what the law defines as femicide. The Mexican state of Chihuahua does not differentiate between the killing of women through extreme violence and other murders. For a murder to be considered a femicide in the state of Mexico—the country’s most populous region—the victim must show signs of sexual assault or mutilation or have experienced a history of abuse.
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