Armed groups used sexual violence, including gang rape, to instill fear in communities, as a way of imposing social and military control in an area, and as a form of punishment
By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Nov 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 15,000 women and girls suffered sexual violence, including rape, during Colombia's civil war, with half of crimes involving children, a report said on Friday.
It also revealed details of the use of forced prostitution during the war with bar owners turning women and girls into sex slaves for right-wing paramilitary fighters.
The report by Colombia's National Centre for Historical Memory looked at the use of sexual violence by all warring factions - paramilitaries, leftist rebels and government troops - during the five-decade conflict.
While it is well known that paramilitary groups, who demobilised more than a decade ago, used rape as a weapon of war, far less is known about sexual violence carried out by rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
One year after the government signed a peace accord with the FARC, the true extent of sexual violence perpetrated by rebel fighters is slowly coming to light amid renewed calls for justice for survivors.
"Sexual violence is perhaps the most forgotten and silenced violence among the repertoire of violence used by armed actors," said the centre which is tasked with documenting Colombia's conflict.
Paramilitary fighters were responsible for a third of all cases, closely followed by rebel groups, the authors said.
The centre reported 15,076 victims of sexual violence, just over half of whom were under 18. But the real number of victims is thought to be far higher as shame and the fear of reprisals has stopped many from speaking out.
"They (women) kept quiet because there was no one to listen to them," the report said.
"On their bodies are imprinted the marks of a society that silences the victims, of a state incapable of delivering justice, of families and communities tolerant of gender violence."
Armed groups used sexual violence, including gang rape, to instill fear in communities, as a way of imposing social and military control in an area, and as a form of punishment.
Those targetted included women branded as allies to a particular warring faction and mothers who tried to stop their children being forcibly recruited into armed groups.
Bar owners in areas under paramilitary control would also trap women and girls in forced prostitution, the centre said.
"They were tricked and brought to the bar ... they didn't know they were coming for that," a former paramilitary fighter was quoted as saying in the report. "They were worked to the max for about one or two months and then let go."
Paramilitary fighters also carried out sexual violence against gay men and transgender people to "correct" their behaviour, researchers said.
Most cases of sexual violence during Colombia's conflict have gone unpunished, the report said.
Under the peace accord, Colombia will hold war tribunals to try former rebel fighters, state military and civilians accused of human rights atrocities, including rape.
Lawmakers are debating a bill to provide the legal framework for the tribunals, with a decision expected within days.