Human Rights Watch welcomes the review of Peru's Law for Protection from Family Violence (hereinafter "Family Violence Law") currently being undertaken by the Commission on Women and Human Development.

We consider this review to be both important and timely. We have therefore prepared the attached memorandum, which details our concerns on this issue and sets out a series of recommendations to help your Commission in its critical review and final recommendations.

As you may know, Human Rights Watch is an independent monitoring organization established in 1978, which conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. The Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch was created in 1990 to document state-sponsored or state-tolerated violence against women and sex discrimination.

As part of this work, Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the state's response to domestic violence in Peru for over three years. In this connection, we have conducted two missions to Peru, in October-November 1996 and in December 1999. On both occasions, researchers from the Women's Rights Division interviewed women's rights advocates, community activists, domestic violence shelter personnel, social workers, and private attorneys who represent victims of domestic violence. We also spoke with individuals from the Peruvian National Police, the Institute for Legal Medicine, the Ministry of Justice, the Public Ministry, the People's Defender's Office, and the judiciary. In addition, we collected testimonies from twenty-five women victims of domestic abuse. While the majority of the interviews were conducted in Lima, we also documented domestic violence cases in Tarapoto, Department of San Martín. Our research, and the attached memorandum, focus on violence against women in their interpersonal relationships. We do not address the whole range of situations covered by the Family Violence Law.

In the course of our investigations, we found that Peru is not fulfilling its international human rights obligations to protect women from domestic violence and to establish effective legal measures to remedy these violations. This is due both to problems embedded in the Family Violence Law and to its implementation. In the first instance, the law adopts an incomplete definition of family violence that excludes whole groups of women; fails to proscribe explicitly certain kinds of violence, such as marital rape; and fails to specify acts constitutive of psychological abuse. Furthermore, the law makes conciliation a mandatory step for women who report domestic violence. Second, Human Rights Watch found that, in practice, implementation of the law is seriously deficient and that there is compelling evidence that bias against victims of domestic violence pervades the justice system. We received many complaints that, when called upon to respond to instances of violence against women, the police, medical examiners, prosecutors and judges frequently fail to take domestic violence seriously, and effectively obstruct women's access to redress.

In adopting the Family Violence Law in 1993, and amending it in 1997, the Peruvian government recognized domestic violence as a widespread problem of public magnitude in Peru. Yet, deficiencies in the law and its flawed implementation mean that the problem remains acute. Indeed, every step in the system that obstructs or delays women's access to redress or reinforces women's subordinate status within interpersonal relationships serves only to ensure that the violence will continue. Now, through the attention being devoted to domestic violence by your Commission, Congress has a new and vital opportunity to ensure that Peruvian women are afforded all possible protection and remedy against domestic violence and that Peru lives up to its obligations under international human rights law to properly investigate and prosecute instances of domestic violence and to provide effective remedies for victims.

We thank you for your consideration. We look forward to further opportunities to discuss our findings and to contribute to the efforts of the Peruvian government and civil society to respond meaningfully and effectively to domestic violence against women.

Sincerely yours,

Regan Ralph
Executive Director
Women's Rights Division
Human Rights Watch