For Immediate Release
Using International Law to Wage Peace in Colombia
WASHINGTON - In recent decades, human rights advocates have won
passage of a system of international human rights treaties, helping to
address a wide range of social justice concerns. More and
more, local activists are devising ways to use these international
standards to make real change at home.
major international human rights treaty has a corresponding "treaty
body" or committee responsible for monitoring whether its members are
fulfilling their obligations. One of these important
treaties is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR), which guarantees such rights as the right to life, the right to
be free from torture and the right to protection from unlawful
imprisonment. The treaty body for the ICCPR is the Human
Rights Committee, and as a member state, Colombia must regularly defend
its record before that committee.
2010, women human rights advocates will have the opportunity to
participate in that international review of Colombia's record. The
people of Colombia have faced decades of armed conflict and rampant
human rights violations. MADRE has joined with our partner
organizations in Colombia to submit a report to the Human Rights
Committee that gives voice to those lived experiences.
The sections below outline the evidence that we have
gathered to challenge any attempt to diminish the severity of the human
rights crises in Colombia. We call on the Human Rights
Committee to respect the calls of Colombian women human rights advocates
and to demand concrete action from the Colombian government.
The Contours of Colombia's Conflict
over 40 years, Colombians have endured an armed conflict over their
country's highly concentrated sources of natural wealth, especially
- In the mid-1960s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia (FARC) arose as a peasant movement demanding land
redistribution and social reform from the government.
the 1990s, the conflict has been a three-way war: the FARC is
battling the government; the government is fighting to eliminate
the FARC; and brutal paramilitary groups function symbiotically
with the government and Army to protect the interests of powerful
- Instead of battling one another directly,
Colombia's armed groups usually attack civilians suspected of
siding with their enemy. The main victims of the conflict are women
and families, hundreds of thousands of whom have been assaulted,
displaced from their homes or killed.
more information, read MADRE
Talking Points: The Role of the US in Colombia's Conflict.
Forced Displacement and the Right
to Land of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombians
Colombia's Constitution, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombians have
been granted recognition of their collective rights to their land.
of the Colombian territory has been recognized as belonging to
- However, these communities have
long suffered sizable losses of lands from forced displacement
caused by the internal armed conflict and by projects relating to
infrastructure and natural resource exploitation.
- Armed groups in Colombia have long sought control over the
lands of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous Peoples for military and economic reasons, forcing them to either
collaborate with the armed groups or abandon their lands.
2009, the Colombian Constitutional
Court warned that at least 34 Indigenous
Peoples "are in danger of cultural or physical extermination due
to the internal armed conflict."
Snapshot of the Reality: Indigenous Peoples and
Afro-Colombians have been denied their right to land, guaranteed in
Colombian and international law, and the Colombian government has
taken no measures to redress this. The Indigenous Embera
Katío People have been displaced from their lands by the
construction of the Urrá dam, losing their connection to their
traditional ways of life. The Afro-Colombian communities
of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó river basins have struggled
against the installment of palm plantations in their territories
since the 1990s, and as a result, they have been targeted by
Forced Displacement of Women
- Almost 60% of
displaced women have no job or income. In
2008, studies reported that in larger cities, 60% of
all displaced households are experiencing or are at risk of food
insecurity, and in
smaller cities the rate rises to about 71%.
- Difficulty finding work, together with lack of access to
food, housing, health care and education, entrenches poverty and
social exclusion among both displaced Indigenous and Afro-Colombian
and Afro-Colombian women face racism, as well as low levels of
education and poverty which perpetuates displacement, threatens their access to work, pursuit of cultural practices,
participation in community life and safety from gender violence.
- Furthermore, displacement cuts off access to traditional
foods and medicines for Indigenous women. Traditional
organizational processes, languages, practices and teachings are
weakened and in some cases lost.
- In May 2006, the Colombian Constitutional Court
partially decriminalized abortion, making exceptions for cases of
documented rape, danger to the physical or mental health of the
woman and fetal abnormality.
since that decision, medical personnel and health care institutions
have misused the principle of "conscientious objection," which
allows for a medical provider to cite their conscience in denying a
woman an abortion. This has led to mistreatment
of and discrimination against women seeking reproductive health
services. Some clinics have made their doctors sign
blanket declarations of "conscientious objection" to refuse to
provide abortion services altogether.
- Alejandro Ordoñez, the
Colombian official responsible for supervising compliance with the
Constitution and for protecting human rights, is also responsible for
prosecuting and punishing health care providers who violate a
woman's right to access safe and legal abortions. Yet,
he has refused to investigate the human rights violation
constituted by the misuse of the "conscientious objection"
- In a number of cases, judges have refused to rule
on cases relating to the misuse of "conscientious objection" to
deny a woman's access to abortion. Moreover, Ordoñez
has ordered public officials to ignore Colombian laws that
- Individual doctors who object to
performing abortions have the legal duty to refer the woman to a
doctor who will carry out the procedure.
- Women in
Colombia experience both physical and mental suffering as a result of
the denial of the right to therapeutic abortion, including in cases
in which pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. Women
experiencing complications of pregnancy and needing therapeutic
abortion are forced to suffer from painful, frightening and
life-threatening conditions, often for many months.
experiencing unsafe abortions or other obstetric emergencies and who are
often in extreme pain and require immediate treatment also fear
the consequence of prosecution for seeking out an illegal abortion.
Added to the fear of being prosecuted is the fear that needed
treatment will be denied by doctors citing "conscientious
- A Snapshot of the Reality: Blanca,
a 13-year old girl who was raped and as a result became pregnant,
was sent to seven different health care providers, all of whom
refused to provide an abortion, arguing conscientious objection and
willfully ignoring their obligation to immediately refer her to an
adequate provider. The girl was ultimately forced to carry out a
high-risk pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. She suffered
permanent health consequences including scoliosis and lung damage.
2006, the Committee on the Rights of Children stated that the
widespread discrimination against women in Colombia puts them at
greater risk of recruitment by armed forces as well as sexual
exploitation, internal displacement and continued violation of
- In 2006,
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur stated, "The
violence and discrimination against women is not solely the
product of the armed conflict-they are fixtures in
the lives of women during times of peace that worsen and degenerate
during the internal strife."
violence is one of the primary causes of the forced displacement
of women in Colombia. It is estimated that two out of
every ten women are forced
to leave their homes because of gender violence.
analysis by two Colombian women's organizations established that acts
of sexual violence have occurred in a range of conflict-related
situations, such as during active attacks, as a result of
forced displacement, or targeting women within armed groups as a
means of control.
- Girl members of illegal armed
groups are particularly vulnerable to grave sexual violence. They
are forced to use inadequate and often harmful methods of
contraception and forced
to have an abortion if they become pregnant.
Snapshot of the Reality: One former girl child
soldier told the story that her commanding officer one day
announced that he would separate the virgins from the other girls.
They were forced to have sex with the commanding officers.
Many girls later testified that they knew their lives were
at stake and that their choices were either to be raped or killed.
against Women Human Rights Defenders
of threats and harassment against human rights defenders, and
often their families, continue to worsen in Colombia. Journalists,
trade unionists, magistrates, lawyers, student and youth activists,
women defenders, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders suffer
physical violence and threats because of their legitimate efforts
to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- When community members are
perceived to sympathize with adversary groups, often simply for not
showing enough resistance, they are punished by paramilitaries and
guerrilla groups. In testimonies gathered by MADRE
and our sister organization Taller de Vida, community leaders
shared stories of harassment and threats made against their life,
forcing them to flee their homes on little or no notice, leaving
all they own behind.
- Extrajudicial executions have
been a widely documented practice committed by military units
across the country. Following a
fact-finding mission to Colombia in June 2009, Phillip Alston, the
Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, stated
that extrajudicial killings of women activists are used
"especially in order to control and instill fear in rural
populations, to intimidate elected officials, to punish those
alleged to be collaborating with the government, or to promote
of protecting the honor and reputation of its citizens, the Government
of Colombia is actively complicit in stigmatizing those who defend human
rights. Women human rights defenders have been accused
by high-level officials of being linked to guerrillas or terrorists. Government
officials are making public accusations to sully the reputations of
independent women's rights activists.
- Other women human rights
defenders have faced death threats, lost family
members to arbitrary killings, or have been jailed without just
cause because of their work defending against and exposing human
rights violations in Colombia.
Snapshot of the Reality: On June 14th, 2010, Aída
Quilcué, an Indigenous women's human rights defender received a
message threatening the lives of members of various Colombian human
rights organizations. The message was sent after activists organized a
public hearing to denounce human rights violations committed
against Indigenous Peoples by the government security forces,
paramilitaries and the FARC.
The Use of
- In 1999, Colombia
outlawed the use of child soldiers in its army. This means that
conscripts must be at least 18 years of age.
from MADRE conducted over 30 interviews with former child solders
from the capital city of Bogotá and the city of Pereira. The age of
recruitment ranged from 10 to 17 years of age and participation
varied through most of the identified armed groups in Colombia.
stories ranged from joining armed groups voluntarily due to
abandonment, being orphaned, or fleeing domestic or sexual violence
or other issues at home. Some children were lured into joining
armed groups with promises of a better life only to find the
promises were false and that they faced the punishment of death if
they tried to escape.
2006, the Attorney-General's Office has found
109 bodies of children - mainly victims of armed groups - in
clandestine graves. According to testimonies of former child soldiers,
children recruited by armed groups were frequently killed for
"insubordination" ranging from stealing food from the group's reserves
to trying to escape.
- A Snapshot of the
Reality: One former child soldier reported
that a friend who in desperation stole sugar from the food supplies was
made to face a "War Council." Members of the
armed group were directed to vote on whether or not his punishment
should be death. The next day, they dug a hole in the
ground and shot and killed him.
Needs to Change
Colombian Government must:
- Restore communities to their
lands and respect the collective land ownership of Afro-Colombians
and Indigenous Peoples. Communities must be
guaranteed the right to prior consultation and consent with regard
to massive infrastructure and natural resource exploitation
projects. The government must guarantee that policies
to ensure the safe return of displaced peoples are implemented
promptly and with care.
a woman's right to access safe and legal abortion.
This means that health care providers may not illegally
claim "conscientious objection," and judges may not refuse judgment
on cases where women have been denied abortions. Furthermore,
women must be guaranteed effective access to sexual and
reproductive healthcare information and services - especially young
women and rural women.
the root causes of sexual violence against women and ensure their
access to health, education and other necessary social services.
The state must prioritize its responsibility to
investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of sexual violence
and to fund special support services for survivors of such
- End stigma against human
rights defenders and initiate investigations to seek justice for
those who have been attacked and killed. Human
rights defenders deserve not only physical protection, but the
freedom to participate in politics at the local and national
- Stop the use of child
soldiers. Government policies must address risk
factors that make children vulnerable to recruitment and institute
programs that support children facing abuse at home, that address
the basic needs of displaced families and that provide training to
teachers to recognize warning signs.
MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that works in partnership with community-based women's organizations worldwide to address issues of health and reproductive rights, economic development, education, and other human rights. MADRE provides resources, training, and support to enable our sister organizations to meet concrete needs in their communities while working to shift the balance of power to promote long-term development and social justice. Since we began in 1983, MADRE has delivered nearly 25 million dollars worth of support to community-based women's organizations in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and the United States. For more information about MADRE, visit our website at www.madre.org.