• The Star Staff

Governor issues executive order to ‘prioritize attention to violence against women’

Does not declare state of emergency

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Thirteen months after a national alert status was declared to respond to the deaths of women due to gender violence in Puerto Rico, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced issued Executive Order 2020-078 on Monday to draw attention to cases of violence against women as “priority services” and ordered the development of prevention and education campaigns on access to services for women that will be broadcast as news bulletins through government outlets.

Vázquez said the order is based on the recognition of every right issued in the Puerto Rico Constitution, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the public policy of the island government. The governor also said that the order includes an “Action Protocol to Fight Violence Against Women in Puerto Rico” that will focus on four issues to ensure women’s rights: prevention, effective attention, adequate management, and accountability. The order imposes obligations to that effect on the commonwealth Family, Justice and Education departments.

“This order is not only focused on addressing violence against women in Puerto Rico as a matter of priority, but it also establishes clearly the government’s responsibilities in the execution of the ministerial duty of defense and protection of those most vulnerable,” Vázquez said.

As for the order not declaring a state of emergency on gender violence, the governor said “words don’t make the difference.”

“When we analyzed all the groups, all the organizations were represented. And, for me, the most important thing that has been part of my government since August 7, 2019, is consensus,” she said. “For me, it was more important, after listening to all the organizations and reaching a consensus, what is a priority for the government of Puerto Rico? The priority is the fight against violence against women. That is why the order is [called] ‘Priority Services in the fight against violence against women.’”

The action protocol will detail strategies and implementation objectives that will be managed by a Multisectoral Commission Against Violence Against Women (COMUVI by its Spanish initials) which will be led by the Justice secretary, with the women’s advocate serving as its vice president. Moreover, COMUVI will include a non-governmental organization representative along with main officials in public safety, physical and mental health, and family and education. It will also include the Statistics Institute, representatives from both the Mayors Federation and the Mayors Association, a media outlet representative and a law enforcement official, according to the aforementioned order.

“The State is responsible for respecting women’s rights and for contributing to eliminating violence against this population; in addition, the violent deaths of women are concerning, and even more concerning are those who end up murdered due to their gender and they are not considered or investigated as such,” the governor said. “Deaths due to gender violence are the most extreme form of violence against women.”

The order mandates that the Justice Department, in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, create an “investigation protocol in cases of violent deaths of women based on gender” to implement Law 83-2020, which creates the Crimes Against Women and Domestic Violence Unit. Moreover, the order will obligate government agencies to include budget items with federal funds allocated for gender violence victims starting in July 2021 so each agency delivers favorable public policies for addressing the issue. According to OE 2020-078, agencies will have 90 days after receiving the federal notification of the funding award to file a request for proposals and 90 more days for the analysis and granting of funds to the entities.

“At the end of the road, we can look in the face of COMUVI [and] the rulers and tell them: ‘The government of Puerto Rico’s budget includes $10 million, among all budgets, for the fight against violence,’” Vázquez said. “That is a big difference. Now, the Women’s Advocate Office, how much does it have? A $2 or $3 million budget? That’s not fair; you have to [speak] the word, but the action is the most important.”

Meanwhile, the governor said she will summon the Legislative Assembly for a seventh Special Session after the general elections. She said she will submit administrative bills to tackle human trafficking and to further criminalize femicide in Puerto Rico.

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