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

Petitioners:  Corporación Sisma Mujer

State:  Colombia

“In Colombia, there are eight victims of domestic violence every hour, one victim of sexual violence every two hours, and one victim of feminicide every three days.” The petitioners at the March 14, 2013, hearing on the situation of human rights of women in Colombia before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) opened their testimony with these startling statistics and, despite the broad theme of the hearing, proceeded to focus on two main points,: the current context of sexual violence in Colombia and the response of the state, and the application of the Intra-family Violence Law.

Speaking first to the issue of sexual violence, petitioners from Corporación Sisma Mujer noted that the problem of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in situations of armed conflict is internationally recognized, and Colombia is no exception. However, despite de jure efforts to address the issue, such as the Constitutional Court’s Auto 092 decision, general impunity for perpetrators of SGBV continues to be the norm. In the five years since the Constitutional Court’s decision, fewer than twenty cases have been trieda statistic in stark contrast to the citied statistics on such violence. The petitioners stated their belief that this lack of justice is the result of several factors, notably that demobilization of the groups involved in Colombia’s armed conflict has had unforseen results, and that the government has not put in place adequate investigation mechanisms to follow up on the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Because paramilitary groups, such as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, AUC) have been officially demobilized after negotiations with the government of President Álvaro Uribe, SGBV crimes committed by successor groups are not defined by the government as part of the armed conflict. This means that victims of these crimes do not receive the same consideration from the government as they would if the crimes had clearly been committed in the context of the armed conflict. Likewise, the conflict has left some women more vulnerable to victimization, especially those who have been internally displaced.

Moving on to the second issue, the petitioners briefly indicated that in their opinion, the legal reforms undertaken by the Colombian government, although all positive, were still not adequate. They argued that the government should open more spaces for victim participation in the peace process and should pass legislation that would make violence against women committed in the context of the armed conflict a crime against humanity.

Representatives from the Colombian government responded to the petitioners by acknowledging that violence against women and girls, and sexual violence in particular, is a grave problem that deserves priority attention. As such, they presented evidence that the state has initiated several programs to address it, including a national action plan for lives free of violence for females, which incorporates the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará), a women’s rights campaign, and a Gender Office in the Victims’ Attention and Reparation Unit. The representatives stated that the state is dedicated to continuing to work with women’s rights organizations to improving access to justice and attention for SGBV survivors.

Commissioner Tracy Robinson, Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, noted that the disconnect between the situation described by the petitioners and that described by the state was manifesting itself in the form of impunity—even though SGBV victims have rights on paper, they have not seen those rights realized in the form of concrete action for justice. She asked for the state’s diagnosis of this disconnect, as well as if the petitioners felt that any particular government program were in need of more attention. Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine asked if victims had an adequate space in the peace process to share their experiences, if SGBV cases had been removed from military jurisdiction, and for more information from both sides about other women’s rights issues in Colombia. Both Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez and Assistant Executive Secretary Elizabeth Abi-Mershed requested written information on the statistics presented by the petitioners at the beginning of the hearing.

Both the petitioners and the state concluded by reiterating their dedication to combating SGBV in the context of the armed conflict and in general, and their appreciation for the Commission’s support.