International aid organisation Oxfam Wednesday called for zero tolerance of sex crimes against women in Colombia, and demands that the European Union pressure the Colombian government to become active in the fight against sexual violence.
In its new report ‘Sexual Violence in Colombia: Instrument of War’, Oxfam says that every armed group in the country, from government security forces to paramilitary groups and guerrillas, use sexual violence as a weapon to intimidate and terrorise women.
“Women are murdered, persecuted, tortured and forced to take up arms, just like any man, but we are also the victims of atrocious kinds of sexual violence stirred up by the very conflict,” said Jineth Bedoya, a Colombian journalist and sex crime victim.
Rape has become a normal and very effective part of armed conflict. Intermón Oxfam spokeswoman Irene Milleiro says that “many women refuse to formally denounce these crimes dreading retaliation, shame, and even fear for their own lives and those of their families.” However, a complete lack of faith in the Colombian judicial system means that even those few women who wish to press charges are inhibited from doing so.
Oxfam appealed to the international community and the European Union in particular, to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards the violence against women in Colombia’s armed conflict. The policy must include the requirement to investigate, try and punish those responsible and to compensate the victims.
Over the past few years pressure from womens’ rights organisations has led to the investigation of 183 cases of sexual violence against women during the Colombian conflict. However, this number is very low when considered that of an estimated two million displaced women in Colombia, one in five has been forced to leave her home due to sexual violence – which could mean as many as 400,000 potential cases of sex crimes in the country.
However, says Milleiro, the prevailing perception on Colombia is that sex crimes are a second-rate violation of human rights. “This is preventing the adoption of tougher measures in order to have a solid legal framework against crimes towards women,” she explains.
In a country where impunity rules and there is little guarantee of justice for victims of sex crimes, Milleiro says that “strengthening civil society organizations, especially those that defend human rights and work with sex crimes victims, is essential to reach an environment that allows a long-lasting peace in the country.”