Colombia has endured almost five decades of armed confrontation. Due to the long duration of the conflict, its dynamics and actors, strategies used by the belligerent groups, patterns of violence and victimization, as well as the geographical dimensions of the conflict, have changed over time. In 2016, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-FARC (the largest guerrilla group) reached a ground-breaking peace agreement seen as a model for gender inclusion (PRIO, 2016).
Although the agreement opens the possibility for de-escalating the conflict, the socio-political violence in the country is far from over. As highlighted in the 2017 Human Rights Watch Report, civilians continue to suffer abuses from the National Liberation Army-ELN (the country’s second largest guerrilla army), the paramilitary successor groups that reappeared after the demobilization process that took place almost 10 years ago and state armed forces (HRW, 2017). Furthermore, since the implementation of the peace agreements, on 1 December 2016, 56 leaders of the Colombian social movement have been assassinated. They are mostly campesino and indigenous leaders, political activists from left-wing political organizations and Human rights defenders (Vanegas, 2017). And in 2010 the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders stated that ‘Colombia was the worst country in the Americas for killings, or attempted killings, of women defenders working on women’s rights or gender issues’ (SISMA & US Office in Colombia, 2013: 21).
In Colombia, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is pervasive and affects all spheres of women and girls’ lives inside and outside the armed conflict (Humanas, 2009). Since 2000, different national and international NGOs, feminist and women’s organizations, and human rights organizations began to identify and catalogue cases of sexual violence in the framework of the armed conflict, and to analyse its impact on the lives of girls and women. They have made visible the fact that in Colombia, gender and sexual violence has been used by all state and non-state armed actors (guerrillas, paramilitaries, army, police, criminal gangs) as a means of exercising social and territorial control (Amnesty International, 2004; Humanas, 2009; Women’s Pacifist Route, 2012). The results of the ‘First Survey of Prevalence of Sexual Violence against Women in the Context of the Colombian Armed Conflict’ are a telling example of the magnitude and widespread use of sexual and gender based violence by all the armed actors. The Survey, carried out by a group of women’s organizations, covered an eight-year period (2001- 2009) and found that during the eight years of the duration of the research, approximately 12,809 women were victims of conflict rape; 1,575 women were forced into prostitution by armed actors; 4,415 experienced forced pregnancies and 1,810 were forced to have an abortion (Campaign Rape and other Violence, ‘Leave my body out of war’, 2011: 16-20).
Although girls and women are the most visible group of survivors of sexual violence in the framework of the armed conflict in Colombia, men and boys are also affected. The Victims Unit has registered 650 men survivors of conflict rape. The register covers the period between 1985 and 2014, but most of the incidents reported took place between 2000 and 2006. However, it is difficult to establish the magnitude of the sexual violence against boys and men, because this crime is silenced as it is considered a taboo, and cultural norms around masculinity deter surviving victims from speaking out (Escarraga, 2014).
Thanks to the work carried out by women survivors of sexual violence and different NGOs working with them, Colombia has developed an extensive normative framework to ensure that women, girls and boys survivors of sexual violence inside and outside the armed conflict have access to services, protection, and justice. For instance, in 2008 the Colombian constitutional court passed the Auto (ruling) 092. The Auto, directed to protect the fundamental rights of displaced women, recognised that sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict was ‘widespread, systematic and invisible’ (Constitutional Court, 2008) and that displaced women were particularly vulnerable to it (Sisma & US Office on Colombia, 2013: 17; Chaparro, 2016: 7). In consequence, the Court ‘…established a constitutional presumption of connection between sexual violence, the armed conflict, and displacement’ (Chaparro, 2016: 7). As a result, the Court established a series of measurements directed to tackle impunity. Another important normative development is the Law 1719 of 2014, which is the first Law to recognize the different expressions of sexual violence in the framework of the armed conflict. It extends the rights and mechanisms directed to address the needs for justice and protection of this particular group of victims, and it is the first Law that explicitly addresses the needs of girls, boys and adolescents affected by sexual violence (Women’s National Network, n/d; International Organization for Migrants, 2015).
Despite the existence of this important normative corpus, high levels of impunity persist. According to the sixth report of the Working group to monitor compliance with Constitutional Court Auto 092 and Auto 009, of the 634 incidents of sexual violence followed by the Court, only 14 cases concluded in crime convictions (2.2 per cent). According to one commentator, ‘This means that the level of impunity surpasses 92% in the cases of the Auto 092 and 97% in relation to all of the cases reported by the Constitutional Court in both Autos’ (Chaparro, 2016: 16).
It is important to highlight that feminist and women’s organizations in the country play a central role in working for peace and the recognition of conflict related rape and sexual violence. During the last 20 years, they have been documenting the impact of sexual violence on the lives of women and girls, campaigning to make these crimes visible at a national and international level, lobbying to secure justice and reparation for the survivors, doing advocacy work, and providing a network of support for survivors by providing psychosocial attention and psycho-juridical advice among others.
Amnesty International (2004) Cuerpos marcados crímenes silenciados. Madrid/Londres: Amnesty International Publications.
The Women’s Pacifist Route (2012) La verdad de las Mujeres en el conflicto armado Colombiano, (Vols. 1 – 2), Bogotá: G2 editores.
Campaing Rape and Other Violence: ‘Leave my Body Out of War’ (2011) Sexual Violence against Women in the context of the Colombian armed conflict 2001-2009. First Survey of Prevalence-Executive Summary. Bogotá: G2 editors.
Cespedes-Baez, L. M., Chaparro N., & Estefan S (2014) Metodologías en el estudio de la violencia sexual en el marco del conflicto. Colombia Internacional, 80: 19-56.
Chaparro, L. R. (2016) Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence. Sixth Monitoring Report on Auto 092 of the Constitutional Court. Bogota: Antropos
Constitutional Court (2008) Auto 098 of 2008. Available online: http://www.corteconstitucional.gov.co/relatoria/autos/2008/a092-08.htm [Accessed 4/11/2017]
Humanas (2009) Situación en Colombia de la Violencia Sexual contra las mujeres. Bogotá: Antropos
Human Rights Watch (2017) Colombia events of 2016. Human Rights Watch, World report 2017. Available online: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/colombia [Accessed 31/10/2017]
International Organization for Migrants (2015) Justicia y Violencia Sexual. Cartilla explicativa de los contenidos de la Ley 1719 de 2014. Available online: http://repository.oim.org.co/bitstream/20.500.11788/1292/1/COL-OIM0508.pdf [Accessed 04/11/2017]
Escarraga T (2014) El drama de los hombres violados en la Guerra. El Tiempo, 7 September [Online]. Available at: http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-14496395 [Accessed 30/10/2017]
Vanegas, M. (2017) El asesinato de líderes es un síntoma, hay que diagnosticar la enfermedad. PACIFISTA, 27 October [Online], Available at: http://pacifista.co/el-asesinato-de-lideres-es-un-sintoma-hay-que-diagnosticar-la-enfermedad/) [Accessed 31/10/2017]
Pacifist Rute of Women, (2012) La verdad de las Mujeres en el conflicto armado Colombiano, Vol 1 & 2, Bogotá: G2 editores
Permanent Working Group on Women and Armed Conflict (2015) XI Informe sobre violencia sociopolitica contra mujeres, jóvenes y ninas en Colombia. Bogota: Antropos.
Permanent Working Group on Women and Armed Conflict (2012) XI Informe sobre violencia sociopolitica contra mujeres, jóvenes y ninas en Colombia. Bogota: Antropos.
Permanent Working Group on Women and Armed Conflict (2010) X Informe sobre violencia sociopolitica contra mujeres, jóvenes y ninas en Colombia. Bogota: Antropos.
PRIO (2016) Gender and Inclusion in the Colombian Peace Process. PRIO Gender, Peace and Security Update, issue 4, Available online: https://www.prio.org/utility/DownloadFile.ashx?id=483&type=publicationfile [Accessed 31/10/2017]
Red Nacional de Mujeres. Ley que castiga violencia sexual en el conflicto armado. Available online: http://www.rednacionaldemujeres.org/index.php/violencia-contra-las-mujeres/item/346-ley-que-castiga-violencia-sexual-en-el-conflicto-armado [Accessed 4/11/2017].