International Day for the Elimination of Conflict Related Sexual Violence

Despite global awareness and widespread condemnation, conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) remains a pervasive issue around the world today.[i] In Colombia, despite the 2016 Peace Accord, this violence persists against women and girls, and to a lesser extent against men and the LGBTQI+ community.

In 2008, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1820, which recognised that sexual violence constitutes a war crimea crime against humanityand/or a constituent act of genocide, depending on the facts of the case. According to the UN Special Representative, this “ushered in a historic shift in paradigm and perspective, from sidelining sexual violence merely as the ‘random acts of a few renegade soldiers’, an ‘inevitable byproduct of war’, or form of ‘collateral damage’, to addressing [CRSV] as a self-standing threat to collective security and an impediment to the restoration of peace… [sending] a clear signal that sexual violence – even in the midst of war – is preventable, not inevitable.”

In an attempt to end situations of sexual violence in conflict, the UK launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) in 2012 with the support of then Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, and multiple recommendations and resolutions from the UNSC. This was followed by the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June 2014, which brought together 1700 delegates and 123 country delegations, including 79 Ministers. The PSVI has worked on many CRSV related issues in Colombia since its inception, and the country is now the Alliance Chair for 2024. The Alliance, launched in March 2023, is a group of actors seeking to drive global action on the prevention of and response to CRSV. Colombia has stated that its priorities as Chair are “focusing on strengthening justice systems, scaling up the work of survivor advocates, developing the Alliance’s work with civil society organisations and awareness raising about CRSV crimes”.

Women’s organisations worked tirelessly to ensure no amnesties for CRSV in the 2016 Peace Accord between the government and the FARC. CRSV is an extremely devastating form of violence with lasting and harmful effects. It continues to be used as a tactic of war in Colombia, adversely and profoundly affecting victims’ and survivors’ physical, sexual, reproductive, and mental health. It also destroys the social fabric of society.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created as a result of the 2016 Peace Accord, has identified at least 35,178 victims of sexual, reproductive and other gender-based violences between 1957-2016. Despite the revictimization and re-traumatisation that may be faced for speaking up about their experiences during the conflict, there are many survivors in Colombia that have courageously dedicated their lives to bringing the issue of CRSV to national and international attention.

Jineth Bedoya Lima has been one such example of a key advocate for eliminating CRSV in Colombia. In May 2000, whilst investigating a story for El Espectador, Jineth was abducted by paramilitaries with links to state officials. During her abduction she was tortured, raped, and left for dead on the roadside. Jineth’s case with the Colombian Attorney General’s Office was stalled for over a decade, prompting her to appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2011. In July 2016, the IACHR finally presented the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. In a historic decision, the Court found that Colombia had failed to adopt appropriate and timely measures to protect and prevent the aforementioned events.

The Court ordered a list of reparations to be carried out by the state, ranging from monetary compensation to Jineth and her mother Nelly, to the implementation of training programmes for public servants and the creation of a state centre for the memory and dignity of women victims of CRSV and gender-based violence. As of March 2024, the Colombian state has complied with five of thirteen reparation measures ordered by the judgement. Most recently, the Bill that will create the requested Fund for the Financing of Prevention, Protection and Assistance Programs for Women Journalists Victims of Violence was approved. Despite some progress in this case, it is critical that this be monitored closely in order to ensure full compliance with the Court order and that the Colombian state is held accountable for its actions.

In order to effectively eliminate CRSV, patriarchal norms and misogynistic attitudes must be changed. To achieve this, it is critical to tackle impunity so that perpetrators are dissuaded from committing acts of CRSV. Without this dissuasion, a culture of impunity serves to embolden the authors of violence, further fuel violations and creates a permissive environment for others to perpetrate these acts.

The opening of Macrocaso 11 by the JEP in September 2023 was a major step forward for tackling Colombia’s culture of impunity. This national case seeks to investigate crimes of “gender-based violence, sexual violence, reproductive violence, and other crimes committed because of prejudice based on sexual orientation, diverse gender expression and/or gender identity in the …Colombian conflict”. This case also recognises the intersectional violence that the LGBTQI+ community face, acknowledging that 17% of cases being investigated were committed based on the victim’s sexual orientation, identity or gender expression and with the motivation to silence, eliminate or expel LGBTQI+ victims.

There is considerable evidence that gender equality promotes peace, and that tackling impunity serves to change attitudes facilitating greater equality. For peace to be sustainable in Colombia it is therefore essential that policies promote equal rights for women, girls and LGBTQI+ persons, including equal access to decision making arenas. Gender equality is the number one predictor of peace and the Women Peace and Security agenda offers transformative solutions and a new and different perspective to militarized masculinity, inequality, and entitlement

On this International Day for the Elimination of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, ABColombia recognises the courage, dedication and strength of Jineth Bedoya, who took her pain and her expertise and used it to tackle this war crime in order to bring about a safer environment for women. We also recognise the bravery of countless other women whose actions seek to end this crime.