Commissioners: Tracy Robinson, Felipe González, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, and Elizabeth Abi-Mershed (Assistant Executive Secretary)

Petitioners: Asociación de Mujeres Afrodescendientes y del Caribe Graciela Cha Inés, Corporación Caminos de Mujer en Tumanco y el Palenque El Congal, Proceso de Comunidades Negras de Colombia (PCN), Global Rights Partners for Justice

State: Colombia

Petitioners before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) explained to the commissioners the suffering of women and their bodies during the armed conflict in Colombia by recounting the horrifying words that victims have been told: “Do not say anything to me; if you say something I will cut you into pieces.”

The purpose of the March 14, 2013 hearing on the Situation of Human Rights of Afro-descendant Women in Colombia was to present to the Commission the conclusion of a preliminary report. The petitioners testified that 10 million people recognize themselves as Afro-Colombians and 50.6% of this population is women. Afro-descendant women are victims of multiples forms of discrimination.

The petitioners also said the arrival of megaprojects to the territories populated by Afro-Colombians has resulted in the forced displacement of these communities by armed forces to make way for the developments. In Colombia, the petitioners asserted, there is a prioritization of the economic rights of developers over the rights of the Afro-Colombians. In Buenaventura for example, Afro-descendants have been displaced from their territories in order to start the process of port expansion.

The petitioners also testified that Afro-Colombian women are victims of political violence as targets for paramilitary groups. This situation is aggravated by the fact that the Colombian government has denied the existence of paramilitary groups in Colombia and has argued that the perpetrators of the violent acts against women are regular criminal groups.

The petitioners concluded their presentation by saying that the public policies in Colombia are not gender and ethnic specific, that in order to advance toward solutions the Colombian government should first recognize the existence of paramilitary groups in the country, and that the state should establish plans and programs that take into account the specific needs of Afro-Colombian women.

Representatives from Colombia recognized that the government has a complicated history with the Afro-Colombian population and reminded the Commission that August 2013 is the twentieth anniversary of the implementation of Law 70, the legislation guaranteeing certain rights for Afro-Colombians. In suggesting ways to further implement the protections, the state representatives proposed implementing a panel where Afro-Colombians will have the opportunity to participate in the regulation of this law—what the government referred to as a “from the bottom to the top” process. The state also proposed a meeting in Bogotá on April 3, 2013, to discuss the situation of Afro-Colombian women and to elaborate a plan to attend to this population.

Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine highlighted the importance of this hearing in making visible the situation of Afro-descendant women in Colombia. Commissioner Antoine responded to the state by noting that in Colombia there are plenty of laws to protect Afro-Colombians but there is a lack of implementation and enforcement of the legislation. She pointed out that Afro-Colombians have been subjected to new forms of discrimination by issues related to mining, land title, displacement, and the megaprojects. Commissioner Tracy Robison said she found some inconsistencies in the way that the petitioners and the state presented to the Commission the process of prior consultation between the state and the Afro-Colombians. Commissioner Felipe González noted that the state did not answer all of the requests of the petitioners, specifically noting the situation of women in Buenaventura. Finally, Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez focused his questions on the point that Afro-Colombians women are invisible and called the state’s attention to the necessity of collecting data about the real situation of Afro-Colombians women. The commissioner also encouraged the state to identify the perpetrators of those crimes and to identify the causes of the conflict.

The petitioners responded to the question of Commissioner Robison about the inconsistencies in the process of prior consultation between the state and the Afro-Colombian population by saying that the Colombian government wrongly interprets issues concerning how and who should be consulted. The petitioners argued that the problem is in the mechanisms that the government uses to consult with Afro-Colombians.

The government ended its intervention by proposing a ministerial cabinet in Buenaventura to diagnose the situation. The hearing concluded with the Commission expressing its intention to continue monitoring the situation of Afro-Colombian women.