BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - The number of women murdered in Honduras has more than quadrupled since 2002, the national human rights commission says, with more than 90 percent of the killings going unpunished in the country which has the world's highest murder rate.
Forty percent of the 3,018 women murdered over the past decade were killed in the last two years, the commision said in a report. In 2010, 36 women were killed on average each month in Honduras. In the first half of this year, that figure rose to 46 – about three women every two days.
Experts blame several factors for the sharp rise in female murders, which has coincided with spiralling organised crime in the poor Central American nation and a rise in violent turf wars between Mexican cartels battling over cocaine smuggling routes to the United States.
"Femicide is part of the general wave of violence in Honduras but there are certain populations that are particularly vulnerable and affected by the violence, including women, journalists, lawyers, and murders related to sexual orientation," Ramon Custodio, head of Honduras' human rights commission (CONADEH), told TrustLaw in a telephone interview from the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.
A report by Oxfam Honduras last year highlighted the danger to women of organised crime and gang violence, often carried out by local street gangs known as maras.
It said women are often killed to settle scores between rival gangs or targeted in attacks designed to send a message to male family members. Some are killed simply because they have spurned the sexual advances of gang members, the report said.
Women who voluntarily or forcibly become involved in drug trafficking and sex work, which is often controlled by organised crime groups, are also at risk of being killed.
According to Oxfam, female corpses have been found with signs of torture and written messages on their bodies.
LACK OF JUSTICE
The human rights commission said of the 950 women murdered in Honduras from 2010 to 2011, nearly 80 percent were victims of gun crime and around half were aged between 15 to 29 years.
The women were from all walks of life, and included housewives, students, textile workers, street vendors. Girls that are only several months old have also been victims of femicide - which is defined at the murder of a girl or woman by a man because of her gender.
Nearly 70 percent of those women were killed in the street and in their homes, often at the hands of husbands and boyfriends, with murders concentrated in the country's two largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
Campaigners say impunity is part of the problem, as is an entrenched machismo that tends to condone violence against women.
Few femicides are solved and the authorities need to do more to prosecute those responsible, the rights commission said.
"There is impunity and the lack of punishment and prosecutions for femicide fosters new human rights violations," Custodio said. "The state's security policy lacks crime prevention. Its ability to punish and prosecute is very weak, which generates more crime."
However, he noted recent changes among the top brass of the Honduran police force.
"We hope the new police chief who started several weeks ago will make a difference and that his appointment will lead to better investigations and less impunity, as one way to prevent more femicides," Custodio said.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen)