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Submission by Human Rights Watch to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on Colombia

This submission focuses on the topics of sexual violence, women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during time of armed conflict.

Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls (article 14)

Human Rights Watch published research in December 2018 that found that armed groups, including groups that emerged from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) were committing rape and other sexual abuses in the southweastern municipality of Tumaco.[1] From January 2017 through the end of September 2018, 74 people in Tumaco were victims of “crimes against sexual integrity” (including rape and other sexual crimes) related to armed conflict in Tumaco, according to Colombia’s Victims’ Registry—by far the highest such figure for any municipality in Colombia. Further, official statistics likely vastly underrepresent the true scope of sexual violence in Tumaco, as many cases go unreported.

Human Rights Watch documented 11 cases of rape or attempted rape that have occurred in Tumaco since mid-2016.

A prosecutor and two human rights officials told us that in many cases women are coerced into becoming the sexual partners of armed group members. As one put it, “they can’t say ‘no’ to the commander.” Human Rights Watch documented six cases in which women decided to leave their homes after armed men ordered them or their daughters to become their sexual partners. In three of the cases, when the women refused, the armed men threatened to rape them or kill them or their relatives. In the three others, parents fled with their children, fearing that armed men would recruit them or rape them.  

In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented that members of the Gaitanist self-defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) coerced girls as young as 12 to be their sexual partners in the western province of Chocó. In one Afro-Colombian community, two residents said that at least five girls under 18 have become pregnant by AGC members in recent years. A 12-year-old girl gave birth to the child of an AGC member in March 2016, and fled with her newborn daughter for fear of the group, a relative said. A 15-year-old girl became pregnant with the child of an AGC member in 2012.

A Chocó justice official and an official with the ombudsman’s office said in separate interviews that child pregnancies by AGC members are common in other nearby communities as well. The official from the ombudsman’s office said that, in some cases, such pregnancies resulted from rapes, but that families generally refrain from reporting rapes for fear of reprisals.[2]

We encourage the Committee make the following recommendations to the Colombian government:

·         Work with the municipal and provincial governments to ensure that survivors of sexual violence receive the aid and protection to which they are entitled under Colombian law.

·         Monitor failures to implement current laws and policies related to gender-based violence in Colombia, with a particular focus on sexual violence perpetrated by armed actors.

·         Increase the number of investigators and prosecutors in Tumaco handling forced displacement, disappearances, sexual violence, child recruitment, and other serious abuses.

·         Implement protection programs for victims of gender-based violence, so that victims who report violence receive adequate and durable protection, including in cases of sexual violence by armed actors.

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