Colombia: Women’s Bodies Shouldn't Be a War Strategy

August 3, 2012

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

In Colombia two women are raped every hour.  This, according the Instituto Nacional de Medicine Legal y Ciencias Dorenses (National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Colombia), is the reality facing Colombian women, meaning that 17,935 women are raped every year. The country’s 45-year-old internal armed conflict has created a dire human rights situation. Women, especially, are caught in the middle: their bodies are used as a strategy to defeat the enemy, as a method of retaliation, as a means of gaining land, or simply to pleasure the different combatants.

All parties in conflict, including the Colombian Army, have used women’s bodies as their commodities. They do it because they know they can get away with it. The impunity for sexual violence in Colombia is striking: according to Colombia’s Semana newspaper, in 2009 only 183 cases of sexual abuse were being investigated.

Yet, as Amnesty International has reported, Colombia has continually failed to protect women from such violence, or to provide justice for victims of sexual violence.

Susan Lee, Americas director at Amnesty International

The personal stories are devastating (all names have been changed to preserve their anonymity):

  • 11-year-old Yolanda was returning home from school in a rural part of Saravena, Arauca Department, when she was stopped by a soldier. The soldier (who had previously pestered her for sex) grabbed her and took her to where his army unit was camped, where he raped her and held her captive until morning.
  • Ana María is a leader of a victims’ movement in Antioquia Department. She was visiting a survivor of sexual violence when men claiming to be from the Black Eagles paramilitary group arrived at the house. They told Ana María to stop her human rights work and raped both women.
  • Daniela was walking with her friend to find firewood in the Bolívar Department, when a man suspected of being a paramilitary took out a knife and forced them into the bushes. He spat in their faces and forced them to have sex with him.

All these women reported these crimes; none have received justice, and, as the Amnesty International report “This is what we demand. Justice!”: Impunity for sexual violence against women in Colombia’s armed conflict details, these stories, sadly, are not uncommon.

As a community leader and survivor of sexual violence explained, “It doesn’t matter if we are careful, or if we are at risk, or how we dress, they [take us] just because we are women… They made me feel that they had the power to do what they wanted to anyone they wanted.”

It’s time for Colombia to declare that all victims of sexual violence, particularly women and girls, have equal protection under the law and equal access to justice!

Anamaria Trujillo contributed to this post.