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Safer Abroad than at Home?

A Guatemalan woman who has battled in U.S. immigration court for 15 years has been told in a one paragraph document that she is eligible for asylum – because of experiencing domestic abuse at home. The case of Rody Alvarado Pena is a bit of a landmark, opening the door for the government to expand its policies on domestic abuse as grounds for asylum.

 According to Ms. Alvarado's petition, she was married at 15, and pregnant soon after at 16. She was beaten and pistol-whipped by her husband, leaving her with a dislocated jawin an attack that may have been designed to trigger an abortion.

According to the NY Times, "In a declaration filed recently to bolster Ms. Alvarado’s argumentthat she was part of a persecuted group in Guatemala, an expertwitness, Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, reported that more than 4,000 womenhad been killed in domestic violence there in the last decade. Thesekillings, only 2 percent of which have been solved, were so frequentthat they earned their own legal term, “femicide,” said Ms. Paz y Paz Bailey, a Guatemalan lawyer. In 2004 Guatemala enacted a law establishing special sanctions for the crime.

“Many times,” she said, violence against Guatemalan women “is not evenidentified as violence, is not perceived as strange or unusual.” " (NY Times online, 30.10.09)

Under the international Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (CEDAW), countries are required to protect the right to life of women, which, according to the Commitee's jurisprudence, has also meant providing domestic remedy for cases of domestic violence, as well as providing education toward the elimination of stereotypes against women.

This, of course, would apply to Ms. Alvarado's case in Guatemala. Under CEDAW, Guatemala is responsible for protecting Ms. Alvarado, investigating her claim, and prosecuting her husband. 

Where, then, has the Guatemalan government been in all of this? 

I am supportive of women experiencing horrible domestic violence in their home countries being able to seek asylum in the United States – but I am even more supportive of an effective framework in their countries to combat such abuse, starting with the education system and moving right up through the courts.

 We cannot deem it acceptable that some countries refuse to protect women, knowing that another country will take them in and clean up their mess. While allowing abused and battered women to take refuge in safer places, we must also press their governments to make their homes safe for them, and not a place where their husbands, fathers, and brothers believe it acceptable to beat them while the government looks the other way.


Read a recent report by the government of Guatemala to the CEDAW Commission here.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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