For immediate release
of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, to Commemorate the National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence in the Internal Armed Conflict in Colombia
(Havana, Cuba, 26 May 2015)
From 24 to 26 May, I visited Havana, Cuba, to discuss conflict-related sexual violence with the delegations of the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP to the peace dialogue, as well as the Cuban and Norwegian guarantors to the process. My visit coincided with the inaugural commemoration of the 25th of May, which Colombia has declared the National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence in the Internal Armed Conflict. On this occasion, I urged all parties to listen to the voices of women and put their protection and empowerment at the heart of the discussions.
My visit to Havana comes at a difficult moment in the peace process. I implore the parties to do everything possible to ensure that the gains that have been made at the peace table are not lost and that everyone commits to an immediate de-escalation of the conflict and create a timetable to help the parties promptly finalize the remaining agreements. I reiterate the commitment of the Secretary-General and the United Nations system to the pursuit of peace.
During the period of the unilateral ceasefire by the FARC there have been fewer armed clashes, less civilian displacement, and fewer lives lost. These are tangible and significant dividends of the peace negotiations. It is my hope, therefore, that a bilateral ceasefire may be instated to consolidate these gains for a lasting peace and set the stage to reach definitive agreements this year.
On invitation of the FARC, I held consultations with their delegation to the peace dialogue. They spoke to me about the role of women in FARC and outlined the zero-tolerance and strict disciplinary procedures in place to prevent and punish sexual violence within their ranks, or if a member of FARC commits such crimes against civilians. The delegation expressed its commitment to continue to address this issue as a priority in the peace talks, and willingness to cooperate with my mandate.
I had the opportunity to meet with the Government, and with the Gender Sub-Commission, composed of both delegations to the peace talks, whose purpose is to ensure that all aspects of the agreement promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. This is an unprecedented mechanism, and its success is crucial for durable and sustainable peace in Colombia. It can also serve as an inspiration for conflict-resolution around the world.
Everyone around the table agrees that addressing sexual violence and other human rights violations against women is critical. They also agree that such violence is rooted in structural gender inequality and discrimination. I urge the parties to build on this common ground, and view the peace process as a historic opportunity to transform the status of women in Colombian society through fundamental structural change.
I was encouraged to hear that the parties have already agreed to undertake joint action in the area of de-mining and removal of other explosive ordnance. Sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination are like ‘mines in society’, and I call on the parties to work together to put in place specific measures to address this threat that also has grave long-term consequences.
When I visited Colombia in March, I had the chance to meet with the Government and other stakeholders to discuss important legislative and policy measures that have been adopted, including the reparations programme for victims of sexual violence and ground-breaking legislation, such as Law 1719 guaranteeing access to justice for victims, which I commended as a source of inspiration for other parts of the world. In my meetings with survivors and women’s organizations in Bogota and the Department of Choco, I heard their clear and resounding message: ‘we want peace’, ‘we want crimes of sexual violence to be recognized by all’, and ‘there must be guarantees by all parties that it will not happen again’.
The United Nations stands ready to support this historic effort to put an end to 50 years of conflict that has brought untold suffering to all the peoples of Colombia, especially its women and children.
For media inquiries, please contact: Tonderai Chikuhwa, Office of the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, tel: +535-209-3924, email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Letitia Anderson, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, tel: 212-963-0910, email: email@example.com