Women are more than victims: they are peacemakers

Members of a support group for survivors of sexual violence create a circle with their hands, Bogotá, Colombia, March 2011. The letters on the hands of the women in a circle form the words "No al abuso sexual" (No to sexual abuse). They are a group of women who have been victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Colombia who meet regularly.

Members of a support group for survivors of sexual violence create a circle with their hands, Bogotá, Colombia, March 2011.
The letters on the hands of the women in a circle form the words “No al abuso sexual” (No to sexual abuse). They are a group of women who have been victims of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Colombia who meet regularly.

By: Janine Aguilera, Identity and Discrimination Unit Intern

Rape and sexual violence against women have been used as a tactic of war in Colombia since the beginnings of the armed conflict, more than 50 years.

Colombian women have been systematically raped or sexually assaulted for variety of purposes, including intimidation, humiliation, forced-displacement, extracting information, and rewarding soldiers. Rape and sexual violence have been also used as a strategy to assert social control, and a weapon against women’s rights defenders who raise their voices in support of land restitution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Firsthand Account of Ongoing Women’s Crisis in Colombia

Stop Violence Against Women in Colombia

Sign reading “No more violence against women” at a 2010 demonstration in Medellin, Colombia. ©AFP/Getty Images

When I woke last Friday, it was to the sound of a woman’s screams in the street. I looked out the window and saw a woman being attacked by a male, and she was screaming for the police. My husband and I called the police. They were on the scene in 5 minutes. The man fled and together with the police we talked the woman through the attack, the police filed a report, and we tried to help the woman recover her lost cell phone and her nerves.

From the very beginning, the day was a stark reminder about the global scourge of violence against women, and about the duty of the state to hold those crimes to account.


Colombia: Women’s Bodies Shouldn’t Be a War Strategy

Stop Violence Against Women in Colombia

Sign reading “No more violence against women” at a 2010 demonstration in Medellin, Colombia. (RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

In Colombia two women are raped every hour.  This, according the Instituto Nacional de Medicine Legal y Ciencias Dorenses (National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Colombia), is the reality facing Colombian women, meaning that 17,935 women are raped every year. The country’s 45-year-old internal armed conflict has created a dire human rights situation. Women, especially, are caught in the middle: their bodies are used as a strategy to defeat the enemy, as a method of retaliation, as a means of gaining land, or simply to pleasure the different combatants.

All parties in conflict, including the Colombian Army, have used women’s bodies as their commodities. They do it because they know they can get away with it. The impunity for sexual violence in Colombia is striking: according to Colombia’s Semana newspaper, in 2009 only 183 cases of sexual abuse were being investigated.


Colombia: Where Being a Civilian is Dangerous

By Peter Drury, Colombia campaigner at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London


Members of the Peace Community at the commemoration of the massacre of February 2005. (c) Amnesty International

It’s 3:00am, it’s the center of the village of San José de Apartadó, dominoes are slammed on a table, children play football, cycle around the square, play ludo. There’s a hum of voices and the sound of frogs pierces this tropical night. This all sounds fairly tranquil. Only it’s not.

The year is 1999 and these people are staying up all night, knowing that at any moment, they could be attacked by paramilitaries working with the Colombian Army. Only a few months earlier paramilitaries stormed the community killing at least two people and injuring other members of the Community. After this attack members of the community take it in turns to stay up on guard, ready to react if the paramilitaries strike again.


Why The Nobel Prize Isn’t Just About Women’s Rights

Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian 'peace warrior' Leymah Gbowee, winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Today the Nobel Committee announced that it is awarding its Peace Prize to three women: Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkul Karman, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

While the fact that the prize is being awarded to three women is important, it is not the most important symbol of what today’s announcement represents. Sure, the number of women who have been honored in the prize’s history (twelve until today) pales in comparison to the number of men (eighty-five), and that disparity should be addressed.

But focusing exclusively on the numbers game as we congratulate Gbowee, Karman and Sirleaf misses the point entirely: these women are not honored today because they are women. They are honored for what their work represents in promoting a more peaceful, just world. Doing so as women, they are both at unique risk and offer unique solutions—but their work makes the world a better place for all.


Total Abortion Bans In Latin America Risk Women's Lives

nicaragua woman doctor

Countries around the world that strictly deny women’s access to abortion, including when such access could save their lives and health, also tend to have the highest rates of maternal mortality.

Most Latin American countries criminalize abortions, forcing girls and women to resort to unsafe, clandestine abortions.  According to the World Health Organization, “Death due to complications of abortion is not uncommon, and is one of the principal causes of maternal mortality” and of an estimated 300,000 hospitalizations.


Continued Impunity: Enforced Disappearances in Colombia

In the last two weeks, Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí in north-west Colombia, were subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. They were both picked up by a group of paramilitaries, who took them away to “resolve some land issues.”

Pineda and González have not been heard from since, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk, and has issued an Urgent Action on their behalf.

Enforced disappearances persist in many countries all over the world, and violate a wide range of human rights. In Colombia, especially, there is tremendous impunity for enforced disappearances, and violators continue to evade justice.


The Challenges of Colombia’s Victims’ Law

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs a compensation law for the victims of the armed conflict and to restore the land to displaced farmers. (EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)

By Dana Brown, Colombia Country Specialist

Colombia recently passed the landmark Victims and Land Restitution Law (“Victims’ Law”), which President Santos sees as so important as to define his career. “If I accomplish nothing else, this will have made my presidency worthwhile,” he said.

The legislation will soon give an estimated 4 million people the right to seek reparations for the crimes they have suffered as a part of Colombia’s almost 50-year long war.

While the entactment of the law is indeed a step in the right direction, it fails to provide for true justice and reparations for many of the war’s victims. For instance, those who are victims of guerrilla or paramilitary activity will have an easier time accessing reparations than those who are victims of crimes of the State.


Still a State of Unconstitutional Affairs in Colombia?

Short answer, yes. In 2004, the Colombia Constitutional Court declared a state of unconstitutional affairs and ordered the Colombian government to address the rights and needs of the displaced population. The Colombia government has yet to implement these orders, and Colombia’s displacement crisis continues. There is an important resolution, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA), going around the US House of Representatives that, if passed, would send a strong message of support for the work of the Colombia Constitutional Court.

House Resolution 1224, currently in the US House of Representatives, would bring the population of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Colombia one step further towards ensuring that their human rights are upheld.

The incidence of displacement in Colombia is not something to be overlooked – it is one of the highest in the world. Between 3 and 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in the country; a further 500,000 are believed to have fled to neighboring countries.  Even worse, is that a disproportionate number of these internally displaced are indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and campesino communities. Displacement has forced these rural dwellers to migrate to large urban areas and it has drastically increased the number of people living in city slums.

In 2004, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued two declarations calling for the Colombian government to protect IDPs and their human rights (see pages 9-18). Unfortunately, the government of Colombia has yet to implement these recommended public policies and IDPs in Colombia continue to suffer. More people are continuously forced from their land, more people are discriminated against, and more poverty exists.

37 Representatives have signed onto this resolution, but more support is needed! Contact your local Representative to bring the millions of internally displaced Colombians one step closer to justice.

Kristin Keohan contributed to this post