Case of Jineth Bedoya: conflict-related sexual violence in Colombia brought before International Tribunal for the first time

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On 16 July 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the case 12.954, “Jineth Bedoya Lima and other, regarding Colombia”. Case 12.954 refers to the kidnapping, torture and rape of investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima for reasons related to her profession; the case will address the failure of the Colombian State to adopt appropriate and timely protection and prevention measures.

The Colombian State will be judged by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of the abduction, torture and sexual violence against journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima 19 years ago.

In the months leading up to the attack in 2000, Jineth Bedoya had received constant threats and suffered attacks against her life and personal integrity, which were reported to State authorities on various occasions. Despite this, the State did not adopt the measures that could reasonably have been expected, in order to prevent violations of her right to life, integrity and personal liberty, as well as freedom of expression.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented the case before the Inter-American Court on 16 July, since Colombia did not comply with the recommendations they made in a January 2019 merits report.

The Commission concluded that Jineth Bedoya had faced a real and imminent risk of suffering an attack or aggression and that the State had been aware of this risk.

The “Merits Report” of the IACHR, which was examined and accepted in January 2019, assessed the admissibility of Jineth Bedoya’s case to the Inter-American System and made a series of recommendations, NONE of which have been met. As a result of this, on 16 July 2019, the case was referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


The CIDH Press release states:

…The Commission concluded that the State has a special obligation to act with due diligence to protect Jineth Bedoya from attacks against her personal safety and acts of sexual violence due to the level of sexual violence against women that characterised the Colombian armed conflict.

The IACHR recognises differentiated forms of violence and discrimination against women journalists, the differentiated impact of said forms of violence and discrimination, as well as the State’s special duties to protect women journalists, particularly the duty to prevent …

The deprivation of liberty, the sexual violations and the attacks against Jineth Bedoya were carried out as a response to her journalistic work, hurting essential aspects of her life, including her rights to life, personal integrity, personal liberty, privacy, freedom of expression, and equal protection


It was further concluded that Jineth Bedoya’s mother, Luz Nelly Lima’s right to personal integrity had also been violated.

The Commission determined that the State did not act with due diligence within a reasonable period of time to determine the identities of those responsible or the origin of said threats.

The IACHR concluded the State violated the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, since it did not act with due diligence within a reasonable period of time in the investigation of the facts.

  • There were lengthy processes of evidentiary inactivity, and omissions in the collection of key evidence and its timely assessment, which led to a preliminary investigation of 11 years that did not achieve the clarification of the facts or the identification of those responsible.
  • The IACHR considered that the investigation and judicial processes re-victimised Jineth, since they were not carried out within a reasonable period and did not follow procedures in accordance to international standards for the investigation of sexual violence crimes.
  • The Commission concluded that the absence of a diligent investigation for 18 years affected the psychological and moral integrity of the journalist’s mother…. [1]

The Merits Report Recommended to the Colombian State that:

  • It should conduct a complete, impartial and effective investigation within a reasonable period of time to establish all the circumstances surrounding the crimes committed against Jineth Bedoya Lima, including the possible participation of State agents, in order to guarantee Bedoya’s and her family’s safety.
  • It adopts guarantees of non-repetition to avoid similar issues in the future. In particular: effective protection measures to guarantee the safety of women journalists who are exposed to special risks on account of the practice of their profession, from a gender perspective; implement training programmes for public servants, security forces, and justice authorities, in order to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge to identify gender-based acts and manifestations of violence against women that affect female journalists; protect them in dangerous situations, and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.
  • It should implement measures to raise public awareness about gender-based acts of violence against women journalists in order to address completely the consequences of the violations declared in the report, including both material and immaterial losses.

This case provides the Court with its first opportunity to rule on the State’s obligation to prevent in relation to the right to freedom of expression of women journalists, and on the positive obligation to protect with a gender perspective, in order to guarantee the safety of women when in situations of special risk. 

Systematic impunity for sexual violence crimes in Colombia constitutes is one of the central factors contributing to the repetition of these violations.[2]

Jineth Bedoya’s courage in pursuing this case, at considerable cost to herself, has been vital in this process. This case has the potential to begin to address the pervasive dynamics of impunity in cases of violence against women in general, thereby opening the door for millions of Colombian women. UN Resolution 2106 on conflict-related sexual violence emphasises a consistent and rigorous investigation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes as a central aspect of deterrence and ultimately prevention.

Background

On 25 May 2000, Jineth Bedoya Lima was carrying out a journalistic investigation regarding a confrontation between members of paramilitary and criminal groups, which resulted in a number of deaths, when she was abducted, tortured, raped and left for dead. She was kidnapped from outside the main gates of Bogota’s La Modelo prison where she was due to carry out an interview [with one of the inmates, a paramilitary leader known as ‘The Baker’/ ‘El Panadero’].

… I was kidnapped when carrying out my work as a journalist, I was tortured… [and] raped by three men…however I decided to stay in Colombia …[I] didn’t choose the pathway of going into exile but to continue with my work in Colombia, because I believed that this was my responsibility. But, I have to say that there are no guarantees for me to carry out this work, there are some security guarantees, but no guarantees to Justice, and it is very difficult to carry out this work when you know that the perpetrators of these crimes are free…[3]

On 24 May 2011, eleven years after her ordeal and due to the failure of the Colombian state to ensure justice in her case, Jineth Bedoya facing threats and complete impunity for her case decided to go to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to request that the IACHR pass judgement on Colombia in relation to the lack of justice regarding her case. She was supported by the FLIP (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa – Freedom of the Press Foundation) and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) to the IACHR.

In 2012, the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office charged three paramilitaries for the crimes against Jineth Bedoya: Mario Jaimes Mejía (alias El Panadero) jailed for 28 years, Jesús Emiro Pereira Rivera, alias Huevoepisca and Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco (‘J.J.’). ‘El Panadero’ had invited Jineth Bedoya to the prison for an interview and ‘J.J.’ coordinated the attack on the journalist. In 2016, ‘El Panadero’ was sentenced to 28 years in prison; he apologised to Jineth Bedoya for his part in planning her kidnapping, torture and rape. ‘J.J.’ was sentenced to 11 years. However, there are more people, including the intellectual authors behind this attack who have not yet been investigated and sentenced.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) assessed the complaints regarding impunity for the human rights violations Jineth suffered when she was kidnapped, tortured and raped. The analysis of the case by the Inter-American Commission concluded that there existed a clear basis for a case against Colombia in front of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica.

On 29 January 2019, almost 19 years after the crimes took place, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took the key decision to accept the case stating that Jineth had presented sufficient evidence for a case to be opened against the Colombian State.

This is an important step in the process of confronting the almost complete impunity that exists for conflict-related sexual violence in Colombia.

Jineth Bedoya has campaigned against the high levels of impunity for sexual violence in Colombia since her attack. She leads the campaign #NoEsHoraDeCallar to expose violence against women and girls in Colombia.  

Jineth has received a number of national and international awards for her journalistic work. The sexual attack against her is one example of the way in which sexual violence is employed as a means of intimidating and silencing women investigative journalists, and to punish women defenders for their work defending the rights of others.

Notes

[1] CIDH presents case on Colombia to the IACHR

[2] Ombudsman, Early Alerts System (SAT), Thematic Report 2011, Violencia contra las Mujeres en el Distrito de Buenaventura, Bogotá, page 77.

[3] Extract from Jineth Bedoya’s oral evidence to the Conservative Human Rights Commission, given on 2 February 2010 quoted in ‘Supporting Women Human Rights Defenders’. A Conservative Human Rights Commission Report, March 2010, p.17.


Further Reading