Oxfam International demands zero-tolerance toward sex crimes committed in the Colombian conflict

Victims of rape call for justice and demand the EU to pressure Bogotá to invest in the fight against sexual violence

International aid agency Oxfam today called for “zero-tolerance” toward sexual violence committed by all armed groups in Colombia. Thousands of women have been raped and sexually abused during the armed conflict, but the vast majority of perpetrators are not held to account for their crimes.

In its new report “Sexual Violence in Colombia: Instrument of War”, Oxfam says that every armed group - government security forces, paramilitary groups and guerrillas - use sexual violence to intimidate and terrorise women.

“Women are murdered, persecuted, tortured and forced to take up arms, just like any man, but we are also the victims of atrocious kinds of sexual violence stirred up by the very conflict,” said Jineth Bedoya, a Colombian journalist and victim.

Far from being sporadic, the use of this violence has become routine practice, forming a normal part of the armed conflict . The report points out, nonetheless, how the persistent hiding and denial of these crimes hinders any investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible. The impunity that rules in the country in face of these crimes has turned women into forgotten victims of the conflict.

“Many women refuse to formally denounce these crimes dreading retaliation, shame, and even fear for their own lives and those of their families,” added Irene Milleiro, spokeswoman for Intermón Oxfam. In addition, the lack of legal guarantees and the lack of confidence in government institutions prevent those women who want to complaint from doing so.

The small steps taken against impunity toward these crimes have been made possible thanks to pressure from women’s rights organizations, which have led in the past few years to the investigation of 183 cases of displaced women who have been victims of sexual violence. Nevertheless, that is a small number, taking into account that there are between 3 and 4 million displaced people in Colombia – half of them women –, and that 2 out of 10 displaced women have had to abandon their homes due to sexual violence.

“Unfortunately, there is a general perception that prevails in Colombia where these crimes are a second-rate violation of human rights. This is preventing the adoption of tougher measures in order to have a solid legal framework against crimes towards women,” claimed Milleiro.

Zero-Tolerance

Oxfam urged the international community, especially the European Union, to react against these crimes and demand zero-tolerance toward violations of human rights, particularly toward the sex crimes carried out against women in the midst of the Colombian armed conflict. This zero-tolerance policy must include the requirement to investigate, try and punish those responsible and to compensate the victims.

The international community must put pressure on the Colombian government and urge it to fight the environment of impunity in the country and protect women against sex crimes through specific clauses within the framework of EU-Colombia relations.

“Strengthening civil society organizations, especially those that defend human rights and work with sex crimes victims, is essential to reach an environment that allows a long-lasting peace in the country” added Milleiro.

Oxfam International has been working in the defense of women’s rights and social empowerment in Colombia since 2006. The report “Sexual Violence in Colombia: Instrument of War” shows the need to continue to research these issues in order to obtain data and shed light upon these cases, thus allowing the victims to be recognized and be thereby empowered to demand justice.

Colombia in Numbers

  • 70,000 dead in the last 20 years
  • Between 3 and 4 million people displaced since 1985
  • 2 out 10 displaced women have had to flee their homes due to sexual violence
  • 2,227 people have been illegally deprived of their freedom between 2004 -2007
  • 4,000 victims of selected killings since 2002
  • The country has climbed down ten places in the Human Development Index (HDI), going from 70th to 80th, out of 177 countries from 2006  to 2008
  • There are between 8,000 and 13,000 boys and girls fighting in the conflict
  • Colombia has the highest number of anti-personal landmine victims in the world

Sources: Amnesty International 2008; UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) 2008’ Informe para el Examen Periódico Universal de Colombia 2008, Human Development Report 2004.

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