The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2015/203) issued on 23 March 2015.
In 2014, the Government of Colombia took important steps to address more than five decades of internal armed conflict in which sexual violence has been regarded as systematic, according to Colombian Constitutional Court Order 092. A landmark law on access to justice for victims (Law 1719), aimed at enhancing the status of sexual violence survivors so that they can receive reparations, psychosocial support and free medical care, was signed by President Juan Manuel Santos on 18 June 2014. Law 1719 explicitly recognizes that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity and that there can be no statute of limitations for such crimes. It includes offences that were previously omitted from the Penal Code, such as enforced sterilization, forced pregnancy and forced nudity, and adds specific reference to aggravating circumstances, for example when sexual violence is committed as a form of retaliation against or intimidation of human rights defenders.
Furthermore, in August 2014, Decree 1480 was adopted, establishing 25 May as the National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence caused by the Internal Armed Conflict, as a measure of collective reparations. In 2014, 2,081 women victims of “crimes against sexual freedom and integrity” received compensation, out of a total of 7,353 victims registered between 1985 and 2014. In November 2014, the Peace and Justice Tribunal in Bogotá delivered a milestone judgement in the case of Salvatore Mancuso and others, which addressed 175 cases of sexual violence, including kidnapping of women for the purpose of prostitution and sexual slavery, sexual assault, forced sterilization and forced abortion. The judgement ordered Mancuso and other paramilitary leaders to provide reparations to over 9,500 people, including victims of conflict-related sexual violence, and to issue a public apology.
Challenges persist in implementing progressive legal frameworks at the local level owing to institutional capacity constraints and the underreporting of cases, which is both a cause and a consequence of impunity for this crime. Of continuing concern, for example, is sexual exploitation in areas under the influence of non State armed groups or groups that have emerged from the process of demobilization. According to official data from the Office of the Ombudsman, post demobilization groups and other local armed elements have been identified as the main source of threat, followed by guerrilla groups, namely the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN). Members of the Colombian armed forces were also identified as perpetrators in some instances, such cases being addressed by the Ministry of Defence pursuant to its zero-tolerance policy.
Reports indicate that sexual violence has been used by non-State armed groups as a strategy to assert social control and to intimidate civilians, in particular women leaders and human rights defenders. It has also been employed as part of extortion strategies, with women who are unable to pay being subjected to sexual violence to set an example for others. Women living in close proximity to illegal mining settlements controlled by armed groups are at heightened risk of sexual exploitation, forced prostitution and trafficking. According to the Office of the Ombudsman, there have been cases of targeted sexual assault against women’s rights defenders who raise their voices in support of land restitution. Conflict-related sexual violence remains a driver of displacement in Colombia, disproportionately affecting ethnic minorities in remote rural areas. Sexual violence committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals, as a form of “corrective violence” or to “cleanse the population”, has caused many to flee areas under the influence of armed groups.
Other noteworthy developments include the participation of survivors of sexual violence in the peace talks held in Havana, as part of a group of 60 victims that addressed the negotiations. Following the creation of a “gender subcommission” in September 2014, leaders of women’s rights and sexual diversity organizations also participated in the talks. As a result of both exercises, conflict-related sexual violence has been raised at the negotiations by both survivors and stakeholders; this is an innovation that not been seen in any prior peace process.
I commend the Government of Colombia for the progress made to date and its collaboration with the United Nations, including through the visit of my Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in March 2015. I encourage the authorities to implement Law 1719 and continue to prosecute cases of sexual violence committed during the conflict to ensure that survivors receive justice and receive reparations. Conflict-related sexual violence should continue to be addressed in the Havana peace talks, as well as in the resulting accords and transitional justice mechanisms. Particular attention should be paid to groups that face additional barriers to justice such as ethnic minorities, women in rural areas, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals and women abused within the ranks of armed groups. I encourage the Government to scale up its protection measures and share its good practices with other conflict-affected countries.