Mérida, July 17, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– In a report released Wednesday, the international NGO Amnesty International (AI) called Venezuela’s 2007 Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence “an example for the rest of the region,” but said practical implementation of the law has been slow. Meanwhile, Venezuela hosted a 32-country regional conference on violence against women and the Venezuelan Supreme Court created a special tribunal to manage domestic violence cases.
“The 2007 law has the potential to bring about real improvements in women’s lives. However, realizing that potential depends on political will and adequate resources,” states the report, which is titled, “The law is there, let’s use it: Ending Domestic Violence in Venezuela.”
The report highlights that an emergency hotline created by Venezuela's National Women's Institute (INAMUJER) has received 29,168 calls since it was created in 1999, and nearly 4,500 of these calls were received in 2007 alone.
According to the Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Americas Program Guadalupe Marengo, “Thousands of women in Venezuela live in a constant state of fear of violence from their partners, fear for their lives and the safety of their children. When a safety net is not provided, many women feel that they have no choice but to stay with their abuser or to be homeless.”
The report estimates that nearly 90% of domestic violence cases still go unreported in Venezuela, but the report highlights statistics from Venezuela's Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigations Unit (CICPC), which show that the number of women who came forward doubled after the law was passed in March 2007.
The law, which replaced a similar but less extensive law passed in 1999, defines physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence against women as human rights crimes, and outlines in detail the government’s responsibility to guarantee women’s rights.
Despite the immediate positive effects of the law, however, obstacles to stopping violence against women in Venezuela persist, including the lack of public awareness and education about the issue, inadequate data collection, insufficient shelters for victims, and insufficient police training and judicial infrastructure, AI indicates.
“Venezuela’s government needs to step up to the challenge set by the 2007 law,” Marengo asserted.
Venezuelan government institutions have indeed taken some significant steps recently toward carrying out the measures mandated by the landmark law.
In March, President Hugo Chávez created the unprecedented Ministry of Women's Issues, and named the director of the National Women’s Institute, María León, as minister.
Earlier this month, León announced that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Luisa Estela Morales, had created a new tribunal which would focus exclusively on violence against women and will have the capacity to try 5,000 cases per year.
This new court will help un-clog the part of the judicial system in which 11,000 domestic violence cases have been delayed because judges “do not believe them to be such an urgent priority,” said León.
Amnesty International’s report notes that the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office promised in 2005 and again in 2007 to create 100 public prosecutors’ offices specializing in gender-based violence, but had not actually set up any such offices at the time information was gathered for the report.
The women's ministry has also expanded social programs directed toward women, especially the “Mothers of the Neighborhood Mission,” which provides an income and entrepreneurial assistance to poor mothers.
The AI report praised such social programs and said they should be expanded more, pointing out that violence against women not only violates the right to a life free of violence, but also limits women’s ability to fully enjoy their economic and political rights.
According to León, the new Ministry has also teamed up with Chief Justice Morales to train Venezuelan judges to manage gender violence cases, and Morales appointed two regional public attorneys to do the same.
State-level women’s institutions have also conducted public education campaigns. Throughout the month of June, the Women and Family Institute of the state of Mérida (IMMFA) tabled town squares across the state to distribute information about the 2007 law.
“The events are directed toward students, organizations that receive denunciations, health care centers, organized communities, and community groups, who made the commitment to pass on the information they received,” said IMMFA President Carmen Urdaneta.
Also in early July, Venezuela hosted a conference of the 32 Latin American countries that had signed the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Eradicate, and Sanction Violence Against Women in Belem Do Pará, Brazil in 1994.
According to the Venezuela's top public defender, Gabriela Ramírez, the purpose of the conference was “the review of the advances and obstacles” in signatory countries’ pursuit of the goals of the convention.