A Firsthand Account of Ongoing Women's Crisis in Colombia

November 5, 2012

Stop Violence Against Women in Colombia
Sign reading “No more violence against women” at a 2010 demonstration in Medellin, Colombia. ©AFP/Getty Images

When I woke last Friday, it was to the sound of a woman’s screams in the street. I looked out the window and saw a woman being attacked by a male, and she was screaming for the police. My husband and I called the police. They were on the scene in 5 minutes. The man fled and together with the police we talked the woman through the attack, the police filed a report, and we tried to help the woman recover her lost cell phone and her nerves.

From the very beginning, the day was a stark reminder about the global scourge of violence against women, and about the duty of the state to hold those crimes to account.

Later this afternoon, I had planned to attend a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on violence and intimidation faced by defenders of women’s rights, reproductive rights and LGBT rights in Colombia. I was going not only because Amnesty is working to support the rights of women’s rights defenders, but also because one of the activists who would testify is Monica Roa, a dedicated activist and attorney I first met in 2007 when she had just successfully argued the landmark case that partially decriminalized her country’s extreme abortion ban. I had then as I have today a profound respect for her work and that of her colleagues at Women’s Link Worldwide, an international human rights organization working on gender equality.

Unfortunately, the thanks Monica and her colleagues have received for the series of women’s rights and reproductive rights victories they have secured in Colombia has been intimidation and threats of violence. On May 7, 2012, the power supply to the Women’s Link Worldwide (WLW) office in Bogotá was cut, and minutes later an unidentified person fired a shot into the office. This attack occurred on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the Constitutional Court ruling on abortion, as Monica and her colleagues were working on preparations for a campaign to highlight the failure to properly implement the Court’s ruling.

The May 2012 attack was the latest in a series of acts of intimidation against Monica Roa and Women’s Link. Their Bogotá office has been broken into and computers stolen on three different occasions, the latest being this past April. They have also been the targets of death threats and harassment since 2005. On several occasions human excrement has been left in front of the main door of their offices. After the first acts of intimidation in 2005, the government granted Monica—but not her colleagues—protection measures.

After such intimidation, today’s hearing at the Inter-American Commission was an important step toward securing justice for women’s rights defenders like Monica. The hearing came at a critical time, as the Colombian Procurador (Inspector General) is seeking an appointment for another four-year term before the close of this year.  But this morning after I arrived at work, Monica informed me that the hearing has been cancelled, we fear for political reasons.

Monica and all the women’s human rights defenders in Colombia need our help now. They are calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to send the delegates who are in Washington to the Inter American Commission, so Colombia’s women’s rights defenders can have their day in court. Advocates need to be safe to do their important work to uphold human rights. States need to take violence against women seriously, respond to their calls for help, and hold perpetrators to account. Help us pressure Colombia to hear the complaints of its activists, and take all measures to protect them.

How to help

  • TWEET AT PRESIDENTSANTOS: Call on President @JuanManSantos to protect women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. Monica’s Twitter handle is @MonicaRoa, and her organization is @womenslink
  • WRITE FOR RIGHTS: Amnesty International USA is featuring Monica as a women’s rights defender in need of help during its upcoming write-a-thon. Email [email protected] for more information.
  • STAND UP to Violence Against Women: Join Amnesty International’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence from November 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, to December 10, Human Rights Day. We will be posting a series of blogs, actions and social media engagement to end violence against women, including women’s rights defenders like Monica. Follow us on Twitter at @AmnestyWomenRts and on facebook at Amnesty International USA Women’s Human Rights Network
  • READ UP on Monica’s case and the lack of accountability for conflict-related sexual violence in Colombiain Amnesty’s report: “Colombia: Hidden from Justice.”