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Guatemalans shocked by girls' violent deaths

From Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
January 19, 2013 -- Updated 0233 GMT (1033 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The bodies of two girls are found dumped on a street
  • The incident shocks the nation, but violence has long been a problem
  • Human rights groups say impunity for the killers is almost guaranteed

(CNN) -- The shocking killing of two girls in Guatemala has thrust the issue of violence against women into the spotlight in a country where such brutal acts rarely are punished.

The bodies of the two girls, ages 6 and 12, were found dumped on a Guatemala City street Wednesday. They youngsters had been asphyxiated, said Jorge Cabrera, director of Guatemala's National Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Investigators are running tests to determine if there is any connection between the two girls and two adult women whose bodies were found that same morning with gunshot wounds, Cabrera said.

The girls' violent end set off outrage in Guatemala, a place where the high incidence of violence is already a problem.

"There is always repudiation at the national level among civil society as much as in the justice sector," Cabrera said. "It's something that should never happen."

The grisly deaths of the girls come as Guatemala experiences a surge in the number of murdered women.

Some 707 women were killed in Guatemala in 2012, a significant increase from 431 in 2011, according to the human rights group Mutual Support, which tracks violence in that nation.

Already this year, 32 murders of women have been reported in just 15 days, while 216 men have been killed in the same period, the human rights group said.

Officials promised that investigators are doing everything they can to identify and catch the perpetrators, but Guatemala's record in pursuing justice is considered pitiful by human rights organizations.

"When it comes to crimes against women and boys and girls, the level of impunity can be as high as 100%," said Mario Polanco, director of Mutual Support.

According to him, in 2012 only 1% percent of women's killings were investigated, and there were zero convictions.

The international human rights group Amnesty International reported that less than 4% of all homicide investigations in Guatemala end with convictions.

The country's congress has recognized the problem, and in 2008 passed a law that established special tribunals and sentencing guidelines for various crimes against women, Amnesty International said, but this measure has not slowed the killings.

"There is no let-up in the cases of killings of women and girls recorded every month, despite the national scandal this has become for Guatemala," said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher for the organization. "Thousands of cases of killings of women and girls dating from the last decade are still unresolved or end up being archived due to inefficiencies."

Cabrera, the forensics director, suspects that organized crime is behind the killing of the two girls, specifically drug trafficking groups who don't care about age or gender, he said.

Polanco, the human rights group director, agreed.

"We believe that these crimes stem directly from organized crime that seeks to paralyze society through a fear so large that it puts us in a place of becoming used to such brutal crimes, and seeing them as something normal," he said.

Fear may be the reason that, as of Thursday afternoon, no one had come to claim the girls' bodies.

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