Washington D.C., July 25, 2005 - The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) completed a visit to the Republic of Colombia, on June 25, 2005, to evaluate the impact of the armed conflict on Colombian women and to collect information about the legal, public policy and institutional measures adopted by the State to protect the rights of women. During her stay, the Rapporteur visited the cities of Bogotá, Valledupar and Quibdó, where she held meetings with government authorities as well as victims and their relatives, civil society organizations and intergovernmental agencies linked with the defense and promotion of the rights of women.
The IACHR has repeatedly manifested its concern over the serious impact of the armed conflict on Colombian society, where the respect for the fundamental rights of women and men is violated. In regards to the specific situation of Colombian women, the Rapporteur verified during her visit that the armed conflict has deepened the discrimination and violence they have suffered historically. The Colombian State is still not offering an integrated response to the specific needs of women and their voices are yet to be incorporated in the design of public policies to redress the special impact the armed conflict has on them.
Through the information and testimonies received, the Rapporteur corroborated that within the Colombian armed conflict, violence against women is a structural problem. Women are spoils of war for the armed actors in their struggle to control communities and territory. The Rapporteur confirmed that Colombian women are victims of homicides, kidnappings, massive detentions, forced recruitment, imputations and threats. Additionally, they are subject to special modalities of sexual violence destined to dehumanize them, such as trafficking and forced prostitution.
These forms of violence are used as an instrument to intimidate and spread terror to communities inhabiting conflict zones, thereby provoking the displacement of hundreds of families that specifically have women as heads of their households. Likewise, the actors in the conflict tend to impose social control over the living conditions of women, by dictating guidelines of daily behavior, intervening in family and community conflicts, and applying punishments when they do not comply with codes of conduct imposed by force that reach the level of murder, torture and other forms of degrading and cruel treatment. In the same vein, the armed actors consider that the leadership exercised by women's organizations challenges their social and territorial control. Consequently, organizations working in conflict zones are the subject of harassment and threats that seriously affect the community work they perform.
During the visit, the Rapporteur received a variety of statistics by governmental and non-governmental agencies about the percentage of displaced women that coincide in the fact that displacement has a disproportionate impact on Colombian women and girls.
The Rapporteur also received information about Sentence T-025, issued by the Constitutional Court on January 22, 2004, that discusses a series of rights of the displaced population as currently violated throughout the country and the need of the Colombian State to ensure a level of protection for this population. This decision is extremely important because the Court expressly establishes that displaced women and heads of households that need to dedicate all of their time and efforts in caring for minor children or older adults under their responsibility have the right to receive humanitarian assistance until the pressing need ceases or until the dependents acquire conditions to support themselves. The Rapporteur reiterates the need for public policies that incorporate the specific needs of displaced women and the principles embodied in this Sentence.
The Rapporteur verified during her visit that the situation of indigenous women is especially critical. In addition to the grave effects of the armed conflict, they have faced a history of discrimination and exclusion based on their condition as indigenous women. Indigenous women belong to societies where ancient territory in an essential element of existence and culture. The armed conflict turns indigenous territories into war and death scenarios. During her visit to Valledupar, the Rapporteur received testimonies that revealed how unprotected are hundreds of widows and orphans who have been forced to abandon the ancient territories where they lived freely and now face extreme poverty and deprivation in cities.
In regards to the situation of afrocolombian women, the armed conflict deepens the situation of discrimination they already face because of social differences and stigmatization. In the city of Quibdó, Deparment of Chocó, the Rapporteur verified that women generally find themselves unprotected and how the actions of armed actors exacerbate this situation because they use women as spoils of war and employ force and control over them, thereby impeding the exercise of their rights. This situation of vulnerability is worsened by the alarming rates of poverty, maternal and infant mortality and morbidity, as well as high rates of illiteracy in women.
The Rapporteur has learned of efforts in the sphere of public policy to address the specific needs of women in the armed conflict, for example, the named "Women Builders of Peace and Security", as well as a series of institutions and mechanisms at the national and local levels to monitor and implement existing laws. It is important to recognize the efforts of the Colombian State to gather statistics about the violations of the human rights of women, including the program Observatory on Gender Issues and the work of the National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. Colombia has also adopted a legal framework to protect the rights of women, including their right to live free from violence and discrimination.
However, state authorities and representatives of the civil society manifested their concern about the absence of an integrated public policy that considers the impact of the armed conflict on the rights of women. This context of impunity perpetuates the treatment of women as spoils of war by the armed actors. The Colombian State is obligated to apply due diligence to prevent, sanction and eradicate violence and discrimination against women, already worsened by the armed conflict, notwithstanding the challenges the conflict poses to this response.
On the other hand, it is necessary that the State implements measures to eradicate discriminatory socio-cultural patterns based on sex, race, ethnicity and social class. It is important for the State to consider these differences when it develops public policies to mitigate the negative effects of the armed conflict on Colombian women. The Rapporteur observes that at both the national and local levels, there is a lack of inclusion of the specific needs of indigenous and afrocolombian women in public programs and policies. The Rapporteur notes as well that government authorities need to effectively legitimize and protect women's rights defenders and their organizations throughout all the national territory.
The Rapporteur reiterates her grave concern for the suffering of Colombian women due to the violence and discrimination worsened by the armed conflict and the importance to consider these specific needs in the public response to the problem. In the current circumstances, Colombian women and girls affected by the armed conflict cannot enjoy or exercise their rights as stated in the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, in the American Convention on Human Rights and other international instruments.
The Rapporteur specially recognizes the extraordinary effort of Colombian women to face the adversities of the internal armed conflict. She also emphasizes their restless struggle against discrimination, exclusion and violence and to promote the full enjoyment of all their human rights. This capacity to organize and lobby has resulted in important legislative advances and promoted the adoption of policies and institutions to advance the situation of women in Colombia. The Colombian woman is not only a victim of structural discrimination and violence, exacerbated by the internal armed conflict, but she is also the bearer of initiatives that favor genuine inclusion, democratization and pacification of the Colombian society and State.
The observations, conclusions and recommendations of the Rapporteurship will be included in a special report to be approved by the IACHR.