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SERGIO ORTEGA asks me to look at two pictures of his daughter, Velvet. In the first, taken four years ago by her husband Kenneth, she kneels, holding her own daughter, Kimberly, on her first birthday. A cake sits in the foreground, and from behind it Velvet gazes happily at the camera. In the second, taken by a policeman, her eyes are screwed shut, her face grotesquely swollen. Battered beyond all recognition, her head is double its former size. This second photograph was taken after the 25-year-old was found dead in the suburbs of Guatemala City in July 2005, having been bound, raped and beaten.

Ortega is a tall, thin man with jet-black hair, more Slavic in appearance than Guatemalan. His hands tremble as he replaces the pictures in a large brown file. "My beautiful daughter," he says in Spanish.

Velvet's death came a year before Amnesty International issued a report highlighting a staggering increase in the number of women murdered in Guatemala. The figure has increased by more than 400% since 2002. In 2005, the fourth consecutive year in which the total had risen, 665 deaths were registered. The death toll for 2006, according to the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, was 672. That equates to nearly two women every day.

Up to 70% of female homicides have never been investigated, and no arrests have been made in 97% of the cases, according to Frank La Rue, of Guatemala's human rights ombudsman. The report called on the nation's president, Oscar Berger, to take urgent steps to improve policing, to strengthen the witness protection programme, and to provide funds for the country's forensics institute. Despite this, the killings continue; the phenomenon is called 'femicide'

Read the full article on The Scotsman website

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