Does Colombia take Sexual Violence Seriously?

On 17 March 2021, the Colombian State objected to the Judges, the line of questioning, and way of conducting the hearing at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the case of Jineth Bedoya Lima versus the Colombian State. The Colombian representatives withdrew in protest on the first day of a virtual public hearing to determine the state’s responsibility in the abduction, rape, and torture of journalist Jineth Bedoya.

After hearing what must have been a traumatic statement from Jineth Bedoya Lima, the Colombian state representatives stormed out of the virtual hearing alleging a “lack of guarantees and objectivity in this process“, referring to the “obligation that Judges have to be objective and impartial”, as well as an alleged “prejudice” by the judges. The State considered that the hearing “could not continue in the present conditions”.

Jineth Bedoya courageously recounted in her testimony, according to a statement by the lawyers and CSOs supporting her case, she outlined 20 years of threats, substantial impunity, and subsequently revictimisation of the rape and torture she had suffered.

The State’s behaviour to a survivor of sexual violence, completely contradicts an international understanding of the rights of victims to be treated with dignity and respect. It also calls into question procedures that have been developed over time, that judges in a case of sexual violence should question with empathy the alleged victim and formulate an interrogation that is comfortable, safe and provides confidence, as well as, avoiding revictimisation. These are minimal and concrete obligations of judges in sexual violence cases.

One of the Judges in responding to the accusations made by the Colombian State said, it cannot be considered that the use of an adequate gender perspective in the trial is contrary to the principle of impartiality.

Jineth Bedoya in pursuing justice and recognition, not only for herself, but all the women that have experienced sexual violence in the Colombian conflict, has had to repeat and re-experience the deeply traumatic events that happened to her every time she has given her testimony.

The Colombian Constitutional Court recognised that sexual violence  is a crime perpetrated by all armed actors in the Colombian conflict and that it is ‘an habitual, extensive, systematic and invisible practice’. A survey undertaken by Colombian women’s organisations spanning a nine-year period (2000-2009) estimated that 12,809 women were victims of conflict rape, 1,575 women had been forced into prostitution, 4,415 had forced pregnancies and 1,810 had forced abortions. A second survey, 2010 to 2015, showed that women were experiencing increased levels of sexual violence in the armed conflict, which had risen from 149 between 2000 and 2009 to 400 women per day 2010-2015. According to a Monitoring Committee established to monitor rulings 092 (2008) and 009 (2015) of the Constitutional Court on sexual violence, 97% of cases of sexual violence in the contest of the armed conflict remain in impunity.

Amongst the requests that the Colombian State made to the Inter-American Court was to have the judges removed from case and the case reassigned, and that this request be resolved by the OAS General Assembly. It was pointed out that this request: (i) lacks a normative basis, (ii) has no precedent in international law, and (iii) is contrary to general principles of law. Furthermore it contradicted ‘judicial independence, separation of powers and the rule of law, since it seeks to grant a political body the competence to decide on the jurisdictional powers of an international court within the framework of a contentious process. International law and the Kompetenz-Kompetenz principle [states], it must be the Court itself that decides on its own jurisdiction and not another body, least of all a political body.’

The challenge that the Colombian State was declared inadmissible by the Inter American System.

Background to the Case

Jineth Bedoya was reporting on paramilitary death squads for El Espectador, one of the most important daily newspapers in Colombia. Jineth was investigating, corruption, arms trafficking and kidnapping linked to La Modelo Prison. The prison’s large criminal network was being directed under the auspices of high officials of the security forces (the police and the army). Jineth was kidnapped as she waited at the entrance into the La Modelo prison in Bogotá on 25 May 2000. She was driven to the countryside beaten, tortured, raped and left for dead at the side of the road. You can read about this brave and courageous women’s story here.

“It has been a long journey since that day in May of 2000, and it has taken me to many places in the world where I could see myself in the eyes of other survivors of sexual violence. Our bodies and our lives are marked by the brutality we experienced, and our task is to prevent other women from having to face the same thing.”

Jineth supported OXFAM’s campaign to raie awarness of what was happening to women in Colombia and to prevent these crimes remaining in impunity. She became a voice for thousands of women who had experienced sexual violence in the armed conflict, and later started the campaign, “No es Hora de Callar” (“It’s not time to be silent”).

“My life is still threatened, my case goes unpunished, and I do not know when those who hurt me 15 years ago will be brought to justice, if ever. But I know that even if I cease to exist, and my work is shut down, it will continue in the voices and lives of thousands of women like me.”

The Colombian courts have sentenced three of Jineth’s attackers to prison but state authorities have not identified or prosecuted other, intellectual authors, higher-ranking individuals allegedly involved in the crime.

My struggle led the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to declare 25 May – the date of my abduction-National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence.