The situation generally in Colombia for human rights defenders has spread considerable alarm amongst national and international organisations and the diplomatic community. One in every three defenders killed globally in 2017 was Colombian.
The work of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) on the gender focus in the Peace Accord and more recently its implementation has raised their profile.
Threats, attacks and killings differ from their male counterparts in that women are not only attacked for defending the rights of others, but also because, by earning a visible place in the public sphere they have crossed a ‘limit imposed’ on women and are being ‘punished’ for that. The number of women killed annually doubled during the Peace Talks between 2012 and 2016, and then doubled again in just one year, from 2016 to 2017.
This followed the plebiscite (August 2016) and the ‘No’ vote campaign being characterised as a vote against the so-called ‘gender ideology’ in the Peace Accord. The attacks against WHRDs have become more brutal in the last year, threats containing sexist content, allusions to the female body and sexual insinuations, differ from threats received by their male counterparts.
The discriminatory and disdainful attitudes displayed in these threats portray a patriarchal vision that seeks to appropriate the female body.
To date, the advances in protection for WHRDs are outside of the FPA agreements.
In June 2018, the National Committee for Guarantees working with the women’s movement, including ABColombia partner Sisma Mujer, created the Comprehensive Programme for Women Leaders and HRDs; its effectiveness will depend on implementation.
Women CSOs have raised concerns about their lack of representation on high-level decision-making bodies. An example of this is the High-level Security Guarantees Commission for the implementation of the FPA. Following an official complaint by women’s CSOs, female representatives were invited to attend; however, this invitation was later withdrawn. Even women’s CSO’s suggestion to sit instead on the Gender Sub-Commission of this committee was refused, disregarding the affirmative action measures envisaged by the FPA; this has left both commissions without any representation from women’s CSOs. Affirmative measures to promote women’s participation are strongly supported also by Colombia’s international commitments to implement the UN Security Council’s WPS resolutions and CEDAW General Resolution 30.
Currently, the Colombian Police Force is incorporated in the Ministry of Defence which generates a military culture within the Police “Force”, rather than promoting the culture of a civilian Police “Service”. This impacts particularly on the protection of rural women and girls from violence, as they report being told by police officers that the violence they are experiencing is a private and not a police matter. There are a range of reforms needed if the Police are to be viewed by the local population as a civilian service promoting social cohesion.
Despite women being supported by the normative basis provided in international commitments, for their participation in peace and security, they can only exercise their rights in practice if they can alter the gender hierarchies that deny them access to powerful decision-making spaces where they can influence policies.
Women and Transitional Justice (SIVJRN)
Colombia has established a complex set of provisions for dealing with transitional justice challenges through mechanisms for truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition (SIVJRN), it has also guaranteed no pardons or amnesties for crimes of CSV.
No amnesty for CSV is extremely important for challenging pre-existing norms and patterns of discrimination against women.
It is also essential for transformative justice, as the trauma of CSV has lasting effects not only on the survivors but also on society as a whole; therefore, it is essential that justice is done and seen to be done.
An important contribution to the procedures for guaranteeing women’s rights is the formation of a Special Investigation Team on Sexual Violence within the Investigation and Accusation Unit of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
The current lack of clarity regarding the procedures for victims’ participation in the SIJVRN means tension and anxiety is being created at the first hurdle.
Once cases are accepted into the JEP, the management of the judicial processes is crucial, as victims frequently re-live the trauma and suffer anew, especially in cases of CSV. As part of that protection it is important that survivors of CSV are not confronted with their aggressors.
Practices that have been used elsewhere include being permitted to give statements via videoconference and closed sessions to protect the identities of victims and witnesses.
The prioritisation and selection process for cases may also create obstacles for CSV entering the JEP. Applying a gender- based approach to these will therefore be essential.
The Truth Commission (CEV) has adopted gender violence as a thematic area for investigation; yet, some CSOs express concerns that unless there is a specific thematic area covering CSV within gender violence, it is unlikely that the real magnitude of these crimes and their impact on women will be revealed.
The effective functioning of SIVJRN not only sends a message that sexual and gender-based violence will not be tolerated, which may deter future recourse to violence against women, ‘but it can also reassure citizens that the government is committed to accountability, justice, rule of law, with the potential to improve public trust in state offices’.
Although combat killings have dropped dramatically, sexual violence in the context of the ongoing armed conflict remains a constant dynamic, with a variation in the armed actors, but with an equally disproportionate impact on women.
The lack of safeguards mean rural women are still silent. It was hoped that following the signing of the FPA, especially Indigenous and Afro- Colombian women would no longer have to remain silent about what the armed conflict has done to them.
However, in reality, they report that the return of ex-combatants to the local area mean that rural women are intimidated and fear reprisals against those who speak out.
It is essential that all mechanisms of the SIVJRN establish a direct line of communication with Indigenous and Afro-descendent women authorities.
There is a strong link between CSV and inequality, therefore, when thinking about transformative reparations for women, physical security and non-repetition, their socio-economic and cultural conditions need to be taken into account.
Social and economic inequalities have increased women’s vulnerability to violence. Transformative reparations therefore should be connected to broader development policies.
The SIVRN, together with the other provisions in the FPA, should provide transformative justice for women by addressing not only the singular violation experienced, but also the underlying inequalities which render women and girls vulnerable in the first place.
Women’s participation in decision- making is difficult to achieve if other basic rights are not secured such as access to sustainable employment, healthcare, housing and nutrition and safety, and protection for women human rights defenders.