Top journalist reports on sexual violence in Colombia’s conflict

By agency reporter
November 29, 2013

Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist carrying out exceptional investigative work reporting on armed conflict, drug trafficking, organised crime and issues around women and violence, is in the UK to launch a new report about the systematic use of sexual violence in Colombia’s armed conflict.

Herself a survivor of violence perpetrated by both sides in the conflict, she explained: "I spent nine years in silence. I felt ashamed. The damage done to your soul never goes away… Now I can speak about what happened to me. I realised I could be a voice for all the thousands of women who have been victims of sexual violence, which gives me strength."

In October 2013 Jineth Bedoya Lima was named one of the 100 most influential journalists covering armed violence around the world. Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

The report on women, conflict-related sexual violence and the Colombian peace process is by advocacy group ABColombia, whose member agencies include CAFOD, Christian Aid UKI, Oxfam, SCIAF and Trócaire.

The launch took place during the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’ in the Houses of Parliament at 5pm on 27 November 2013.

In the report, ABColombia reveal that sexual violence by the security forces, guerrilla groups and paramilitaries is almost never prosecuted despite its widespread and systematic nature in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict.

Approximately just 18 per cent of women report sexual violence in Colombia, and the impunity rate for sexual-related crimes runs at more than 98 per cent. As a result, women victims of sexual violence harbour a sense of fear, powerlessness, frustration and insecurity. The report states that ending the almost total impunity for this crime will contribute to the potential success of a peace process in the country.

Louise Winstanley, ABColombia’s Programme and Advocacy Manager said. ‘Sexual violence in the Colombian conflict is an extensive, systematic and invisible practice. We are hopeful that the Foreign Secretary’s new flagship programme on sexual violence in conflict will ensure that UK expertise and funds are given to help women’s organisations in Colombia struggling to bring horrific cases to justice.’

In August 2012, after five decades of conflict, peace talks between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were officially announced. Many women’s organisations consider that previous demobilisation processes of armed groups failed to address women’s access to justice for crimes of sexual violence in the conflict. A repeat of this must be avoided.

The report calls for UN Resolutions 1325 and 1820 – signed by Colombia – to be adhered to. These state that Governments should ensure that sexual violence is on the agenda during peace talks, that there should be no amnesties for sexual violence crimes, and that women must play a major part in the peace process and in the construction of peace.

ABColombia and its member agencies also call for the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework to include a specific Gender Equality indicator which also covers violence against women.

The report explains how sexual violence in Colombia is widespread and has been used as a strategy of war designed to terrorise and control communities. Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on sexual violence in armed conflict, insisted after her visit to Colombia in May 2012 that 'Colombia should increase its efforts to combat impunity for crimes of sexual violence.'

Jineth is the currently sub-editor for the Colombian national newspaper El Tiempo and an active participant at the Latin American Centre for Journalism (Centro Latinoamericano de periodismo CELAP).

* The full report ‘Colombia: Women, Conflict-related Sexual Violence and the Peace Process’ can be downloaded in English from 27 November from ABColombia’s website: www.abcolombia.org.uk

[Ekk/3]

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