Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 15:15 GMT

Costa Rica: The implementation and effectiveness of the 2007 law on domestic violence (2007-2008)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 2 October 2008
Citation / Document Symbol CRI102945.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: The implementation and effectiveness of the 2007 law on domestic violence (2007-2008), 2 October 2008, CRI102945.E, available at: [accessed 31 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Approved by the Legislative Assembly (Asamblea Legislativa) in April 2007, the Law on Criminal Sanctions for Violence Against Women (Ley para la Penalización de la Violencia contra las Mujeres) came into force on 30 May 2007 (Costa Rica 30 May 2007), some eight years after being introduced (La Nación 25 May 2007; The Tico Times 25 May 2007). In total, the law (No. 8589) contains 46 articles (Costa Rica 30 May 2007).

The aim of the law is to [translation] "protect the rights of victims of violence and punish physical, psychological and sexual violence and violence against property (violencia patrimonial) targeting women of legal age, specifically within the context of a marriage or a declared or undeclared non-marital union (unión de hecho)" (Costa Rica 30 May 2007, Art. 1; Costa Rica 24 May 2007). Among its provisions to penalize violence against women, the law calls for a 20- to 35-year prison sentence for a man who murders his partner (Costa Rica 30 May 2007, Art. 21), which is almost twice the previous penalty range (The Tico Times 25 May 2007). The law also establishes 11 new crimes that were not included in the Penal Code (Código Penal) (Costa Rica 24 May 2007), including mistreatment, restriction of freedom of movement, emotional violence, abusive sexual conduct, sexual exploitation, obstruction of access to justice, violation of a protection order and [translation] "femicide" (femicidio) (ibid.; Costa Rica 30 May 2007, Art. 21, 22, 23, 25, 30, 31, 41, 42; see also 26 May 2007). Article 21 of the law states that a femicide occurs when a man murders a woman to whom he is married or in a declared or undeclared non-marital union (Costa Rica 30 May 2007, Art. 21). The law also provides for alternative sanctions, such as a combination of weekend detention, community service or mandatory counselling (ibid., Art. 9, 11, 12, 13, 16). In cases where the male aggressor is a first-time offender or the sentence is less than three years, a judge has the authority to change the prison term to an alternative sanction (ibid., Art 11; ibid. 24 May 2007).

Information on the implementation of the new law was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. In an October 2007 press release, the National Institute for Women (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INAMU) identified cases in which officials within the public prosecutor's office (Ministerio Público) did not apply the law (Costa Rica 3 Oct. 2007). Jeannette Carrillo Madrigal, Executive Chair of INAMU, notes the murder of a woman in Puntarenas and the attack of a woman in Alajuelita as examples where public servants working for judicial authorities did not fulfil their responsibilities in the application of the new law (ibid.). Carrillo Madrigal also cites information indicating that some officials in the public prosecutor's office have not been providing assistance to victims on how to proceed with their complaint under the new law (ibid.). INAMU further states that it will be carrying out training for officials as well as to women's organizations on the [translation] "appropriate implementation" of the new law, and it will be delivering communications campaigns on what the new law offers (ibid.).

In January 2008, statistics released by INAMU noted a 54 percent decrease in femicides in 2007 in comparison to 2006, when 35 femicides were reported (Costa Rica 10 Jan. 2008). There has also been an increase in the number of women accessing the services of INAMU, from 5,327 in 2006 to 5,823 in 2007 (ibid.). INAMU Executive Chair Carrillo Madrigal suggested that the increase in consultations is in part related to INAMU's work in training and educating public officials and women's groups, and also to the enactment of the Law to Penalize Violence Against Women, which provides women with more options when seeking information and guidance to deal with violence (ibid.).

A 13 July 2008 La Nación news article, however, reported that despite the new law, there was an increase in the number of women (13) murdered by their husbands or former partners in the first six months of 2008 versus the same period in 2007 (in which there were 9). In addition, the number of complaints of attacks (agresiones) against women reported to INAMU increased by 146 over the same time frame in 2008 as compared to 2007 (La Nación 13 July 2008). INAMU experts interviewed by La Nación indicated that the problem is not the law, but the application of the law (ibid.). INAMU's Carrillo Madrigal reportedly denounced judicial officials, saying that they intimidate victims instead of helping them, leading victims to withdraw their complaints (ibid.). In contrast, Judge María Elena Gómez indicated that one problem with implementation of the new law is that many women do not know of its existence (ibid.). Judge Gómez further stated that dozens of training courses had been offered to civil servants (ibid.). Nevertheless, both Carrillo Madrigal and Gómez agreed that one year is a very short time period within which to evaluate this law (ibid.). The preceding information reported by La Nación could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Costa Rica. 10 January 2008. Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INAMU). "Disminuyen los femicidios durante el 2007." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2008]
_____. 3 October 2007. Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INAMU). "Autoridades Judiciales deben hacer cumplir la Ley de Penalización." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2008]
_____. 30 May 2007. Ley para la Penalización de la Violencia contra las Mujeres. La Gaceta, No. 103. [Accessed 11 Sept. 2008]
_____. 24 May 2007. Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (INAMU). "Firman ley que penaliza la violencia contra las mujeres." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2008] [San José]. 26 May 2007. "Law Against Domestic Violence Signed." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2008]

La Nación [San José]. 13 July 2008. Alonso Mata B. "Aumentan asesinatos de mujeres pese a nueva Ley." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2008]
_____. 25 May 2007. Vanessa Loaiza N. "Arias firmó ley contra violencia doméstica." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2008]

The Tico Times [San José]. 25 May 2007. Katherine Stanley. "President Signs Long-Awaited Domestic Violence Law." [Accessed 4 Sept. 2008]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), Comité de América Latina y el Caribe para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (CLADEM), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch (HRW), United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, United Nations (UN) Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United States (US) Department of State.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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