GUATEMALA CITY – The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala (OACNUDH) and UNICEF on Wednesday called for the creation of a “crisis committee” after the fire at a state-run children’s shelter that, so far, has resulted in the deaths of 40 girls and teenagers.
In a joint report made public on Wednesday, the two UN entities said that creating a crisis committee is “immediately” needed to provide an “adequate” inter-institutional response to the tragedy.
So far, 40 girls have died and more than 10 are still hospitalized, nine of them in the US, after the March 8 fire at the Virgen de la Asunsion children’s shelter.
Some of the girls housed at the shelter had started the fire to protest sexual and physical abuses they claimed to have suffered there.
According to the testimony of children, center personnel, authorities and families, as included in the report, the fire broke out during the commemoration of International Women’s Day.
On March 7, a “ruckus” had broken out at the center during which some of the girls housed there had tried to flee.
During the operation to recapture the children, police beat some of them, according to the statements, and once most of them had been caught 52 boys were locked into the center’s auditorium and between 54 and 64 girls locked into another room.
On the morning of March 8 a fire broke out in the girls’ hall killing 19 of them and injuring dozens more, many of whom have died since then in local hospitals.
OACNUDH and UNICEF called for the creation of a crisis committee to “immediately” improve other shelters to temporarily house the children transferred there after the fire.
The two agencies also called for the adoption of “legal and institutional reforms” to ensure that the human rights of the children at such shelters are protected.
Meanwhile, the former head of the Social Welfare Secretariat (SBS), Carlos Rodas, the SBS Deputy Secretary Anahi Keller and former Virgen de la Asuncion director Santos Torres were arrested on Monday and accused of aggravated homicide, among other crimes.