VIOLENCE AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter the "IACHR" or the "Inter-American Commission") has repeatedly expressed its concern over the serious impact on the human rights of men and women of the armed conflict that has affected the Republic of Colombia over four decades. The conflict has severely affected the civilian, non-combatant population, particularly groups at greater risk such as women, children, indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombian communities, social leaders and human rights defenders. The IACHR has adopted a report which addresses the impact of the armed conflict on women and the way in which it deepens and aggravates the discrimination and violence they suffer, and formulates conclusions and recommendations.
2. This report is based on the results of the on-site visit to Colombia undertaken by the former Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the IACHR (hereinafter "Rapporteur" or "IACHR Rapporteur"), Ms. Susana Villarán, between June 20-25, 2005. The primary objective of the visit was to assess the impact of the armed conflict on Colombian women and to receive information about the legislative, policy, institutional and judicial measures taken by the State to safeguard the rights of women within this sociopolitical context. During her stay, the Rapporteur visited the cities of Bogotá, Valledupar and Quibdó, where she met State authorities, as well as a number of victims, relatives of victims, civil society organizations–including indigenous and Afro-Colombian organizations–and intergovernmental agencies working to defend and promote the rights of women. The report is also based on information gathered by other official entities and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
3. Violence and discrimination affect the lives of women during times of peace and degenerate during internal armed conflicts which impact the civil population. In its report, the IACHR analyzes the discrimination and violence against women in the context of the Colombian armed conflict and the way in which the circumstances that have historically exposed women to discrimination and subjected them to social stereotypes, an inferior treatment and the civil, political, economic and social consequences of these disadvantages, are exploited and manipulated by the actors of the armed conflict.
4. Violence against women is employed as a strategy of war by the actors of the armed conflict in their struggle to control territories and communities in different areas of the country. On the basis of firsthand observations and the testimonies received, the IACHR has identified four main manifestations of violence that especially affect women within the armed conflict. First, the actors in the armed conflict employ different forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence to “wound the enemy” by dehumanizing the victim, injuring her family circle and/or spreading terror in her community, thus furthering their control of territories and resources. In these cases, women can be direct targets or collateral victims, as the result of their affective relationships as daughters, mothers, wives, partners or sisters of any of the members of the groups that participate as actors in the conflict. Second, the violence destined to cause the forced displacement of women from their territory and the consequent removal from their homes, daily lives, community and family. Third, sexual violence can be part of the forced recruitment of women, which is destined to make them render sexual services to members of the guerrilla or paramilitary forces. Fourth, the violence intended to make them a constant object of social control measures imposed by the illegal armed groups in the communities that inhabit territories these groups control.
5. The IACHR stipulates in this report that the physical, psychological and sexual violence exercised by the actors in the armed conflict against women, has the objective of wounding, terrorizing and weakening the enemy to advance in the control of territories and economic resources. Acts of physical, psychological and sexual violence purport to intimidate and punish women for having affective relationships with members of the opposing faction, for disobeying the norms imposed by the armed actors or for participating in organizations perceived as enemies. These aggressions additionally serve as a tactic to humiliate, terrorize and wound the “enemy”, whether the victim’s family nucleus or community.
6. The crimes perpetrated against women and girls during these manifestations of violence result in: (1) attacks, massacres and homicides committed against communities intended to cause their displacement; (2) homicides, acts of torture and markings against women who sustain affective relationships with supporters or combatants or because they or their relatives are involved in political activities; and (3) home searches and kidnappings to obtain information, terrorize, punish, intimidate or coerce the women. Both men and women are the victims of crimes perpetrated by all the actors in the armed conflict, but in the case of women, acts of physical and psychological violence are joined by aggressions and crimes of a sexual nature.
7. Regarding women as victims of displacement, the figures indicate that they constitute approximately half of the population affected in Colombia. State figures confirm that four out of ten displaced families are headed by women. The report of the IACHR analyzes the impact of displacement on women in terms of the radical, traumatic and sudden change in their family structure and roles, geography, culture, community and socio-economic standing, and their exposure to threats, violence and discrimination based on their gender by either the actors of the conflict that caused the displacement, as well as the receiving populations.
8. The IACHR also addresses the recruitment of women and girls-either forced or voluntary-by the illegal armed groups, with the intention that they act as combatants, escorts, sexual slaves, informants, guides and undertakers of domestic duties.
9. The report discusses the problem of the imposition of forms of social control over the living conditions of women that inhabit territories controlled by the illegal armed groups. One form of control is displayed in the general imposition of daily behavioral standards and codes of conduct in communities, where the armed actors intervene in family and community conflicts and even in the lifestyle of community members, imposing punishments that can include murder, torture and forms of cruel and degrading treatment. In this context, the actors in the conflict regularly monitor the behavior and dress of women and adolescent girls and use sexual violence as a punishment and a general warning to the female population within the community under control. These forms of control promote culturally-rooted gender stereotypes and crimes against women which tend to remain in impunity for different reasons.
10. Colombia stands out for the organizational experiences of groups of women who want to participate and influence the public agenda, both in areas traditionally linked to the specific needs of women, as in issues related to the resolution of the armed conflict. However, in the case of Colombia, this type of participation has become an extremely dangerous activity in which women’s rights defenders and their loved ones are exposed to violence and displacement. In fact, armed actors find that the leadership exercised by women’s rights organizations challenges the extent of their social and territorial control, which–the IACHR believes–has resulted in the systematic intimidation, persecution, kidnapping, torture and sexual abuse, among other crimes, of members of organizations such as the Organización Femenina Popular-OFP, Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas, Negras e Indígenas- ANMUCIC, the Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas and the Casa de la Mujer.
11. The Convention of Belém do Pará stipulates that when a State acts with due diligence, it should take special account of the vulnerability to violence that may affect women on the basis of their race and ethnicity, among other risk factors. Through this provision States acknowledge that discrimination, in its different manifestations, does not always affect all women to the same degree. There are women who are particularly exposed to the infringement of their rights and to suffer discrimination on the basis of more than one factor.
12. In this respect, the IACHR’s report indicates that the situation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian women is particularly critical, as they are victims of multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their race, ethnicity and the fact that they are women, a situation aggravated in the context of the armed conflict. They face two layers of discrimination since they are born: first, for belonging to their racial and ethnic group and second, because of their sex. Being exposed to two forms of discrimination historically, they are doubly vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment by the armed groups in their struggle to control resources and territories. In the case of indigenous and Afro-Colombian women, the armed groups have more than one factor of social disadvantage to exploit and manipulate as part of their strategy of war against the civil population.
13. The Rapporteur of the IACHR could verify during the visit that the situation of Afro-Colombian women living on the Pacific coast is particularly precarious and alarming. Both State authorities and non-State sources confirm that the Afro-Colombian population has been subjected to a history of discrimination, exclusion, invisibility and social disadvantage, both economic and geographic. The armed conflict has worsened this situation, since the armed actors profit from these disadvantages in their struggle to control territories and resources. In the particular case of Afro-Colombian women, their condition as women adds another layer of discrimination and vulnerability to their lives and exposes them to greater abuse by the actors of the conflict.
14. The impact of forced displacement on Afro-Colombian women is significant and manifests itself in various ways, due to their worldview, culture and traditions, identification with their territory and their condition as women. According to the information and testimonies gathered, displacement leads Afro-Colombian women to suffer from discrimination because they are women, because of their Afro-Colombian origin, and because of their status as displaced persons. The change in roles and family structure faced by displaced women may be even more intense and radical in the case of Afro-Colombian women living in rural areas who move to urban zones, because of the community life that they used to lead, the traditional correlation of their activities with those of their husbands or fathers, and the uprooting of this social model. Furthermore, Afro-Colombian women who are displaced suffer acts of racism, ridicule and stigmatization by the receiving communities. Their race, as well as the low levels of education and poverty of displaced women in general, challenges their adequate access to work and to different forms of economic subsistence.
15. In regards to the situation of indigenous women, the report stipulates that the same is especially critical due to the history of discrimination and exclusion they have faced on the basis of their condition as women and indigenous and the serious effects of the armed conflict. In fact, the pressure exercised by armed groups over indigenous lands, whether for reasons of military strategy or economic interests, impacts the lives of indigenous women in a particularly alarming way. The testimonies gathered by the IACHR indicate that indigenous women perceive their ancestral lands as essential places for their existence, culture, and family. Therefore, they consider that their security and the very existence of their peoples will be endangered while the integrity of their lands is threatened by the conflict. Regarding forms of violence perpetrated against indigenous women, the report states that armed actors use women as “spoils of war” and as objects of sexual aggression in which armed patrols kidnap indigenous women, collectively use them sexually and later abandon them, with impunity.
16. Besides describing the manifestations of violence directed towards women in the context of the armed conflict, the report of the IACHR addresses the measures adopted by the State to resolve the crimes perpetrated against women and to repair their consequences, as well as to prevent their recurrence. In this respect, the report confirms that State officials at the national and local level interviewed during the visit of the Rapporteur of the Rights of Women, recognize both the existing challenges and that the Colombian State has advanced in the adoption of a legislative and public policy framework, and in the design of State programs destined to protect the rights of women. The IACHR also highlights the efforts destined to gather statistics about crimes perpetrated against women, including the Observatory of Gender Issues, the work of the National Institute of Legal Medicine, the incorporation of gender into the statistics of the Administrative Department of National Statistics and the Social Solidarity Network. Moreover, the Constitutional Court has issued a series of notable court decisions over the last ten years, successfully invoking the recourses of tutela and inconstitucionalidad to protect the civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights of Colombian women.
17. Nonetheless, despite these measures, both State authorities and civil society representatives expressed their concern over the lack of an integral State policy addressing the specific impact of the armed conflict on the human rights of women, applicable to the national and local levels, and how this void perpetuates the impunity towards violence and discrimination practices. The Report corroborates noticeable flaws in the diagnosis, prevention and early warning of different forms of discrimination and violence against women which are aggravated by the armed conflict, and gaps in the provision of humanitarian assistance and multidisciplinary support services for victims. The Colombian State is obligated to act with due diligence to eradicate violence and discrimination against women despite the challenges its response faces. This obligation of the State to act with due diligence has four fundamental components: prevention, investigation, sanction and reparation of human rights violations perpetrated against women.
18. On the other hand, the State’s homogenous view of women as a target group, beneficiary of public policies, has resulted in responses that fail to consider the particular needs of different groups, particularly Afro-Colombian and indigenous women. In consequence there is, both nationally and locally, a failure to consider the specific and different needs of indigenous and Afro-Colombian women in public programs and policies geared towards protecting the rights of women. In this regard, the report of the IACHR affirms that the State ought to implement measures to eradicate discriminatory socio-cultural patterns based on sex, race, ethnicity and social class, and take these differences into account in the development of public policies to mitigate the effect of the armed conflict on all Colombian women and in particular over those belonging to vulnerable groups.
19. In this context, and even in the presence of certain progress, women still confront numerous legislative, institutional, cultural and geographic obstacles to effectively access justice. Among the most notable challenges are deficiencies in the investigation, judgment and sanction of acts of violence and discrimination, which result in a mistrust of the administration of justice; gaps in systems to gather statistics; and the dearth of human and financial resources to address the persisting problems. Furthermore, it is necessary to establish sustainable capacity-building programs for justice officials and to begin programs to sensitize the population and to promote an increase in the submission of complaints. Lastly, the report recognizes weaknesses of the administration of justice in the zones occupied by the armed actors, and the implementation of principles and practices within the penal procedures applicable to violence against women that can challenge women’s access to effective judicial protections and guarantees.
20. Based on its observations and on the conclusions reached, the IACHR formulates in its report a series of recommendations geared towards the design of an integral State policy that will take into account the forms of discrimination and violence affecting women that are aggravated by the armed conflict, in order to achieve progress in the diagnosis, prevention and response to these problems and in the incorporation of the specific needs of women in the public agenda. Additionally, they call on the State to implement measures to eradicate discriminatory socio-cultural patterns based on sex, race, ethnicity and social class and to take account of these differences in the development of public policies to mitigate the pernicious effect of the armed conflict on Colombian women throughout the national territory. The recommendations formulated herein are of a dual nature: general recommendations and recommendations by category of attention and response, covering legislation, public policies, State institutions and programs, diagnosis and prevention, public services for displaced women, administration of justice, civic and political participation, and truth, justice and reparation.
21. The IACHR in its report reiterates its grave concern over the situation of Colombian women due to the violence and discrimination aggravated by the armed conflict and the urgent need to respond to the problem according to their specific needs to facilitate that Colombian women and girls enjoy and exercise their rights under the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other international instruments. The IACHR reiterates its commitment to collaborate with the Colombian State in the search for solutions to the problems identified. Some steps adopted to address this situation display an understanding of the gravity of the existing problems and the commitment of the State and non-State sectors to consider the specific needs of women in public policies designed to solve, sanction, prevent and eradicate acts of violence and discrimination against women.
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