Hundreds of women were raped and abused by paramilitaries in the AUC‘s northern bloc between 1997 and 2005, reveals a new report documenting sexual violence in Colombia’s Caribbean region.
“Women and War: Victims and Resistors in the Colombian Conflict,” by Colombia’s National Reparation Commission, describes the shocking and systematic sexual violence carried out in the region by paramilitary fighters.
Testimonies of victims fill the 400 page book. Some of the most horrifying are recounted by women from the village of Rincon del Mar in the San Onofre municipality, who were violently abused by paramilitaries from the Heroes of Maria’s Mountains bloc.
A woman known as “Sandra” told the commission: “‘El Flaco’ lived in the house opposite me. He smashed open the doors, shot my husband and slashed my scalp with a machete. I thought he was going to bury me alive.”
Ten days later, ‘El Flaco’ locked Sandra in in her house, and his brother raped her cousin in front of her. When Sandra realized she was also going to be raped, she shouted, “If you’re going to kill me, kill me, because I’m not going to the bedroom.”
After escaping her torture, Sandra needed more than 50 stitches in her scalp. But she was only able to spend three days in hospital and could not receive proper treatment because the San Onofre police had removed medicines on the orders of the paramilitaries’ boss.
The commission also documents the case of a 13-year-old girl forced into prostitution by the extradited paramilitary boss Hernan Giraldo. She describes the beginning of her ‘work’ for the “Boss of the Mountains” at one of his parties.
“There were around 10 females, almost all my age, and four men, all drinking. That night, my first client was Giraldo. After taking a mix of cocaine, marujuana, base and alcohol, we went (…) to a farm. That night there were three of us and they began to go crazy, the three of us had sex. The next day we washed in the river, then they paid me 700,000 pesos and I went back to Santa Marta alone”
A woman from the Magdalena lowlands described how sexual violence was meted out as punishment. “In the middle of the night a group of men arrived and said we had 12 hours to leave. When we didn’t follow their orders, they came back and took my daughter. They raped her and they destroyed her life.”
Another describes the “revenge” taken against women who resisted the advances of paramilitaries in Aracataca. “I was attacked on the street and raped. (…) I was alone and ran into two men wearing balaclavas who pushed me. (…) They just kept laughing while one would say to the other ‘Leave her! Leave her! I want a go’.”
Community leaders and human rights defenders were singled out for attack, according to the report. But it was not just women who were victims of the abuse. During two days in May 2003, 16 gay men and various women accused of being “gossips” were made to fight each other in front of the rest of their village, La Libertad.
The spectacle was arranged by a paramilitary alias “El Oso” to welcome the arrival of the feared AUC boss “Cadena.” It took place in the same region in which paramilitaries organized beauty contests for young girls, followed by rape.
The commission’s report questions the version of events given by paramilitary bosses, who claim that these crimes either didn’t happen or were isolated events.
The report says, “Given the fact that these violations repeatedly happened in the context of displacing, plundering and barbarically punishing ‘disobedient’ women, and were inflicted in a public manner, it is scarcely credible that these men, with all their power and the information they handled, were not aware they were happening.”
It adds it is likely that the AUC “calculated that the victims, mostly young women and children, would not dare to accuse them.”
El Tiempo newspaper reports that the commission’s document contrasts dramatically with official figures. Of almost 30,000 paramilitaries demobilized in the six years since Colombia’s Justice and Peace law came into force, only 47 have acknowleged these types of crimes.