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Gender-based violence is still a major challenge for Colombia

A recent report of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Security Council notes an increase in gender-based violence complaints in Colombia during 2016.



25. In November 2016, four years of negotiations between the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) culminated in a final peace accord. This marked an end to five decades of conflict in which, as the Constitutional Court of Colombia affirmed in 2008, sexual violence was widespread and systematic. Informal peace dialogues between the Government and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, the second-largest guerilla group in Colombia, also continued during the reporting period.


26. During a joint visit to the Havana talks in July by my Special Representative and the Executive Director of UN-Women, the Government and FARC-EP publicly committed to delivering justice and support to sexual violence survivors. In terms of transitional justice, the final peace accord provides for the establishment of a truth commission and a special jurisdiction for peace, which identifies sexual violence as a grave violation that cannot be amnestied. The agreement contains strong commitments on gender and the request that my Special Representative, UN-Women, the Government of Sweden, and the Women’s International Democratic Federation support their implementation. On 25 January, the Security Council established a special political mission of unarmed international observers to monitor and verify the ceasefire, cessation of hostilities and process of disarmament (see Council resolution 2261 (2016)). The gender-based violence subcluster supported predeployment training on conflict-related sexual violence for the observers.


27. Colombia has developed an exemplary legal framework for addressing conflict-related sexual violence, including Law 1719 on access to justice for victims and various Constitutional Court orders urging the authorities to address such crimes. In response, the Office of the Attorney-General has adopted an investigation protocol for sexual violence and deployed legal teams to 17 affected provinces. Nonetheless, just 2 per cent of the 634 cases of conflict-related sexual violence documented by the Constitutional Court have been translated into convictions to date.


28. While gaps in the data persist, primarily due to underreporting, the Ombudsman’s Early Warning System indicated that the risk of sexual violence remained high in at least 12 departments throughout 2016. The Ombudsman’s Women and Gender Delegate registered 2,914 incidents of gender-based violence for the period from January to October, of which 466 were conflict-related sexual violence. This represents an increase in reports of gender-based violence overall, but a lower proportion of conflict-related sexual violence relative to previous years. The Office of the Ombudsman warned of a heightened risk of such violence as former combatants return to communities. The National Victims’ Unit registered 85 cases of conflict-related sexual violence between January and November, in 31 per cent of which Afro-Colombian women were targeted.


29. The United Nations documented 79 cases of sexual violence during sporadic operations by armed groups in 2016, including forced prostitution, sexual torture, sexual slavery and harassment by armed groups and forces. In approximately 90 per cent of cases, the perpetrators numbered three or more and the victims had previously suffered conflict-related sexual violence, with the first assault generally taking place in childhood. United Nations partners are also monitoring the response to a number of emblematic sexual violence incidents, which are part of the legacy of conflict. For example, in Santander province, a pattern of sexual violence against schoolgirls by post-demobilization groups was documented, with a former principal and a former police inspector both facing trial for facilitating sexual slavery and forced recruitment. Since 2015, OHCHR has tracked the case of 10 girls who were subjected to sexual abuse by members of the post-demobilization group, Clan del Golfo, in Antioquia province. To date, just one individual has been brought to justice for the crimes. In Putumayo province, UNHCR documented the case of a 12-year-old displaced girl who was sexually exploited for two years, allegedly by a member of FARC-EP. Her schoolteacher, who had reported the incident, was forced to flee the area following threats and intimidation.


30. In response to a pattern of sexual harassment targeting women activists, including those who championed gender justice during the peace process, the Government conducted security-risk assessments for 1,164 women leaders, finding 675 to be facing an elevated risk of violence by armed actors. While the authorities have put in place risk-mitigation measures, the Ombudsman notes that protection must be better adapted to specific needs and contexts. There is still a paucity of psychosocial support services available and an insufficient number of shelters for survivors, particularly in remote areas.






31. I commend the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP on their historic achievement to place gender justice at the heart of the Colombian peace process, and urge them to ensure that it remains central during implementation. This precedent should inform the ongoing peace dialogues between the Government and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional. I call for the work of transitional justice mechanisms to pay specific attention to the plight and rights of women, girls and all survivors of sexual violence; for verification of the ceasefire to include monitoring of sexual violence; and for risk-reduction measures to be embedded in the process of laying down arms.




(Extract from pages 9 to 11 of the enclosed report) 

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170415_Report_of_the_Secretary-General_on_conflict-related_sexual_violence (PDF)

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