Laying Down Arms Reclaiming Souls: Sexual violence against men and boys in the context of the armed conflict in Colombia


Executive summary

This report concerns sexual violence committed against men and boys during the armed conflict in Colombia and the investigation of such violence pursuant to the truth and justice framework established under the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo).

Sexual violence was pervasive in the context of Colombia’s armed conflict and was perpetrated by all parties. Recognising the serious nature of this crime, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ordered that it be prioritised by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), the justice component of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition established under the Peace Agreement.

While sexual violence is known to have affected countless women and girls in the context of the Colombia conflict, less well documented is the impact of this crime on men and boys, who were also seriously impacted. In this regard, this public report presents the main findings jointly submitted to the SJP on 17 March 2022 by the Red de Mujeres Víctimas y Profesionales (RMVP), the Focal Groups of Male Victims of Sexual Violence (the Focal Groups), and All Survivors Project (ASP).

The joint submission documented 75 cases of sexual violence against men and boys that occurred between 1989 and 2015. The cases were initially reported to authorities in Colombia in 2019 and 2021 during three “Collective Complaint Days” organised by RMVP, the Focal Groups and ASP. The joint submission focused on analysing incidents and patterns of sexual violence in the territories with the highest number of complaints received during this process – Montes de María sub-region (13 cases), and Magdalena (41) and Chocó (9) departments. This report outlines the experiences of these men and boys from these three geographic areas. Based on their accounts, the main alleged perpetrators of sexual violence were members of FARC-EP and the paramilitary group,
United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC – Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia).

ASP carried out a detailed analysis of 51 of the 75 cases, finding that these victims were typically attacked in their homes; while cultivating their land; or while travelling along roads and highways where armed groups were present and in confrontation. Their experiences were characterised by extraordinary levels of brutality - the vast majority involved anal rape often by more than one person and sometimes in public or in the presence of family members. The testimonies tell of being bound and beaten. In addition, the victims were threatened with violence and death if they reported the incidents. In many cases, sexual violence was accompanied by or took place in the context of other serious violations of international law, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, and extortion. In almost all the analysed cases, victims were forcibly displaced because of the sexual violence, which deprived them of their livelihoods. Most reported severe physical and psychological injuries because of the sexual violence they suffered, for which most had not received any medical or psychosocial support. Indeed, the impact of the experiences of sexual violence on the victims who provided their testimonies has been devastating. Even now, many years after the events, most are still living with the physical, psychological, economic and other consequences of the crimes committed against them.

Under-reporting of sexual violence, against all genders, in conflicts across the globe, typically disguises its true magnitude. In Colombia, the Constitutional Court has referred to a “triple process” of invisibility, silence, and impunity in facilitating sexual violence against women, and the National Centre for Historical Memory (CNMH – Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica) has noted that in Colombia the silence is far greater in the cases of men and boy victims of sexual violence. Most of the 75 victims whose testimonies were analysed for the joint submission in early 2022 did not report to the authorities at the time of the sexual violence committed against them, for reasons such as that they felt ashamed, did not want their families to know, feared reprisals from the perpetrators, or felt that the authorities would not protect them.

The accounts of sexual violence given by the 75 individuals were consistent with patterns described by the CNMH, national and international human rights organisations and others. They provide a reasonable basis to believe that FARC-EP and AUC used sexual violence against the victims in the context of strategies of domination and control of the civilian population and for territorial gain. Sexual violence has also been directly linked to the practice of forced recruitment and use of children, notably by FARC-EP which, is reported to have systematically and forcibly recruited and used teenage boys and girls.
The report outlines the framework of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international and national criminal law, under which Colombia is required to investigate the crime of sexual violence and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

There is a reasonable basis to believe that the acts of sexual violence perpetrated against the victims whose testimonies were included in the joint submission may have constituted of torture, a crime under international law. The detailed testimonies and impact on the victims’ physical and mental health clearly indicate that the perpetrators inflicted severe physical and/or mental pain and suffering on the victims by subjecting them to sexual violence. Based on the evidence and research conducted, including on the existing context of armed conflict in each geographic area at the time of the events, there are sufficient indications that this suffering may have been inflicted for a specific purpose, in particular to intimidate, punish and/or coerce the victims, and sometimes their communities, with the objective of gaining social and territorial control. In the case of the victims with diverse real or perceived sexual orientation, information suggests that the purpose of the rape may have been to discriminate against them and punish them on the basis of their diverse sexual orientation.

Under certain circumstances, acts of sexual violence may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. Indeed, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has found “sufficient basis to believe” that the FARC-EP and the AUC, among others, committed crimes against humanity. According to the OTP, numerous attacks - of a systematic and widespread nature - against the civilian population were perpetrated in different parts of the country, including in the territories of Montes de María, Magdalena, and Chocó.

Cases documented in the joint submission provide a harrowing account of the dynamics and patterns of sexual violence committed against men and boys during the armed conflict in Colombia. They merit the attention of the SJP. Meanwhile, victims report that they have had no response from the authorities and that they continue to face barriers in accessing justice. The continuing state of impunity further exacerbates the profound harms suffered by victims, who continue to seek redress for these crimes.

Victims are calling for sexual violence against men and boys, including those with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression, to be investigated by the SJP as part of a macro-case on sexual violence. In the absence of such a macro-case, there is a real risk that the sexual victimisation of men and boys in the context of the conflict, which remains largely under-investigated by the justice system, will be further overshadowed and rendered invisible. Alternatively, if a macro-case on sexual violence is not opened, the victims urge the SJP to investigate sexual violence against men and boys as part of its ongoing macro-cases (including Case 007) and as part of other future macro-cases, in line with their rights as victims of the armed conflict.