Commissioners: Tracy Robinson, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Felipe Gonzales

Petitioners:  Corporación Sisma Mujer

State: State of Colombia

Topic: Human rights situation of women in Colombia (particularly pertaining to sexual and domestic violence in the context of armed conflict and threats to human rights defenders)

Over fourteen hundred Colombian women are victims of violence each month and one Colombian woman is murdered every three days. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, Commission) addressed the issue of women’s rights in Colombia in a 2005 report. In its report, the Commission found that instances of armed conflict, such as the conflict in Colombia, jeopardize women’s human rights by creating problems of violence and displacement. Every year since 2006, the Commission has issued precautionary measures protecting women in Colombia, including measures protecting the petitioner, Corporación Sisma Mujer (Sisma Mujer).

On March 26, 2012, the Commission held a hearing addressing the human rights of women in Colombia. Sisma Mujer argued that Colombia has failed to implement recently passed legislation protecting women. Sisma Mujer explained that female human rights defenders and ombudsmen frequently receive threats of violence. Although Colombia has legislation meant to protect women, it requires that the individual being threatened demonstrate an extraordinary or extreme risk of violence. This is a very difficult burden for the victim of a threat. Additionally, Sisma Mujer claimed that Colombia has violated the Colombian constitution, which grants women the right to terminate pregnancies, by making it more difficult to legally terminate a pregnancy. Sisma Mujer argued that this State action is placing women’s health in danger. Over 90% of terminations in Colombia are performed illegally, and a third of women who terminate a pregnancy suffer complications that require medical care. Sisma Mujer requested that the Commission express concern over women’s rights in Colombia and issue a request that the government of Colombia investigate situations of violence against women. Sisma Mujer further requested that the Commission visit Colombia to further assess the situation of women’s rights.

The State of Colombia responded by acknowledging that the rate of violence against women is high. The State argued, however, that it was responding to the problem in an effective and satisfactory manner. The State claimed that it is in the process of implementing a law which would use education to raise awareness of violence against women, create mechanisms for reporting sexual violence in the work place, work with the Colombian Ministry of Health to create protocols addressing proper treatment of women who are victims of violence, and improve women’s access to the courts. Colombia argued that the rise in reports of violence against women was due to an increased willingness to report violence, not an increase in the amount of violence against women. Although women are still victims of violence, Colombia claims to be implementing systems and laws that will improve women’s human rights.

In response to the arguments presented by the State and Sisma Mujer, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez requested more information concerning the possibility of impunity for violators of women’s human rights. He also requested more information from the State concerning the 36% increase in violence against women, and on the unit that Colombia has created for the protection of women’s human rights. Commissioner Orozco requested more information from Sisma Mujer on challenges that would prevent Colombia from implementing measures protecting women. Tracy Robinson expressed interest in whether the law passed to protect women had sufficient staff and resources for implementation, and in the ways the State was violating women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Finally, Felipe Gonzales was concerned that the State would postpone the implementation of precautionary measures while completing investigations into the risks of violence against women.

The two parties differed on their interpretation of the increase in reports of violence against women. The petitioners argued that attacks against human rights defenders and ombudsmen had increased, and that there has been no evidence of effective response to threats against women. Colombia countered that the State has been teaching women about their rights and that they are now coming forward with complaints they had not previously known were violations of their rights. The State and Sisma Mujer agreed that the situation of women’s human rights in Colombia required attention, but ultimately the debate centered on whether Colombia was taking sufficient action.