13/03/17: Colombia – Women survivors of sexual violence and HRDs

The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) organised a meeting, in conjunction with RAW in War (Reach All Women in War), on 13 March 2017, with Colombian journalist and campaigner on women survivors of sexual violence, as well as RAW in WAR’s 2016 Anna Politkovskaya Award Recipient, Jineth Bedoya Lima, to discuss the current political situation in Colombia, those who continue to be in danger because of their political/human rights activities, and the on-going struggle for justice for women survivors of sexual violence in the conflict.

We would like to thank Lord Judd for chairing the meeting.

The main points raised were as follows:

  • Sexual violence in Colombia is one of the worst crimes committed there.  With the end of the conflict, more information is coming out about the extent to which sexual violence was perpetrated.  What has happened in Colombia has also happened in other conflicts: armed men often consider women as just another weapon of war.  Raping women is a means of intimidating an entire community.  More people need to speak out about this.  
  • Though crimes of sexual violence are non-pardonable under the terms of the peace agreement, the challenge will be addressing impunity. Jineth’s own case serves to illustrate the difficulties involved.  She continues to try and get justice for herself, but is also committed to campaigning on behalf of the many other victims of sexual violence, many of whom face even greater obstacles.
  • There are 8 million Colombians officially registered as victims of the conflict, with half a million having received redress or reparation from the state.  
  • There are over 10,000 registered victims of sexual violence, with some of them having received some form of state compensationThe number of victims is believed, however, to be dramatically higher – with Oxfam, in its report on violations committed in Colombia between 2001 and 2009, asserting that only a small minority of women had reported sexual violence perpetrated against them.  There has been very little assessment of sexual violence carried out by the FARC in rural areas, which could also increase numbers.
  • With the end of the conflict and conclusion of the peace agreement, the problems are not over – what lies ahead could be the most difficult phase.
  • There has been an increase in the cultivation of illicit crops.  This is worrying because narco-trafficking fuelled both guerrilla and paramilitary activity.
  • In the last few months, approximately 40 Human Rights Defenders (“HRDs”), including 28 women, have been murdered in Colombia and there is total impunity for these killings.
  • The land previously occupied by FARC is now being taken over by paramilitary groups.
  • The challenges in dealing with impunity are numerous – including an ineffective judicial system, lack of resources, protection of perpetrators by state institutions, lack of protection for witnesses.
  • The international community’s continued engagement will be very important, including to ensure that the post-conflict funds are spent properly; the UK has an important role to play as one of the main contributors to the Fund for Peace.
  • It will also remain vital for the international community to continue supporting and strengthening social organisations and the grassroots, so guerrilla groups can be reintegrated; justice done; reconciliation properly undertaken; and the terms of the peace agreement practically implemented.
  • The international community must also raise concerns about negative developments, especially the increase in killings of HRDs; there is a need to consider, as a matter of urgency, how HRD protection could be improved.
  • With the 5th anniversary of the UK Government’s PSVI initiative, it is important and timely to explore what more could be done to address impunity and to protect HRDs and victims.

The PHRG will continue to follow developments in Colombia very closely and to raise its concerns with relevant interlocutors, including to ensure civil society organisations are supported, HRDs protected and the needs of victims of the conflict, including those of sexual violence, addressed.