EL ESPECTADOR, July 7, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The NGO Temblores[1] has assembled, using data from the Forensic Medicine Unit, an extensive list of victims that have complained of having been sexually assaulted by police or members of the military between 2017 and 2019. The problem of the undercount persists.

The most recent Army scandal based on several complaints of sexual abuse by its members, including the confession of responsibility by seven soldiers in the sexual assault of a 12-year-old Emberá Chami child two weeks ago, has the military institution giving an account of itself after similar accusations in years past. The Army Commander himself, General Eduardo Zapateiro, stated that since 2016 there have been 118 soldiers investigated for cases of sexual abuse that involve girls, boys, and teenagers. Of those soldiers, 76 have been forced out of active service—31 left just last week—and the others are facing disciplinary investigations.

The NGO Temblores is an organization that works to protect vulnerable populations. It was able to put together a database using information from the Attorney General’s Forensic Medicine Unit. It compiled 241 complaints against members of the Armed Forces for sexual violence in Colombia between 2017 and 2019. Of those, 139 cases (56%) had been committed by members of the Armed Forces, and the remaining 109 by the Police.. The most recent complaint, which is not counted in the database, came last April in the midst of the Covid-19 quarantine. A woman in Bosa (Bogotá) told the communications media that two uniformed men in a CAI[2] station seized her, took off her clothes, robbed her, and abused her.

Other data revealed by the organization is that of the total number of complaints, 74 % were made by a woman. And that, in nearly 110 cases, the victims were people with problems of drug addiction. The investigative effort also uncovered the fact that even though this kind of violence arose in greater proportion in the street (68 cases) in athletic areas (50) and residences (44) there are two statistics that cannot be ignored: that 34 of the abuses were committed in military garrisons and 12 were committed against a victim in custody. Bogotá is by far the area of the country that reports the most cases, with 131, followed by Antioquia (15), Cundinamarca (12), Caldas (7) and Boyacá (6).

“It’s important to make clear that sexual violence in this country is not just committed in the setting of the armed conflict, but is committed outside of the conflict as well. Of course one is scandalized to see how unprotected the girls and women are in rural centers, in remote places where the war has ravaged the bodies and the lives of women. But, effectively, in Bogotá this kind of violence is not just presented within families, but by police and soldiers,” Adriana Benjumea, Director of the Humanas Corporation, told El Espectador.

For its part, Temblores concluded that the population most affected in this period was students, with 148 cases. And, once again, it reports another alarming statistic: 21 of the victims identify themselves as members of the Armed Forces. With regard to the indigenous population, there are only six cases reported, which immediately indicates a major undercount. Last week Deputy Attorney General Martha Mancera traveled to Guaviare to investigate more cases in which the military appear to be implicated, after the complaint by a 15-year old Nukak girl of being sexually assaulted by two soldiers from the José Joaquín Paris Battalion in 2019. Mancera reported that the prosecutors had prioritized at least 13 cases in Guaviare Province.

The organization Akubadaura, dedicated to legal assistance for indigenous communities, points out that girls and teenagers in these populations are facing a situation that’s particularly difficult in the context of Colombia’s armed conflict, “as much for the situations of sexual violence that are not limited to physical invasion of the human body, but which include acts that don’t imply penetration or physical contact as forms of violence against women.” The CIDH[3] has also asserted that the situation is “especially critical because of the history of discrimination and exclusion based on their condition as both women and indigenous, and on the serious effects of the armed conflict.”

Besides that, according to the Registry of Victims (RUV in Spanish) of the total number of women victims of crimes against sexual integrity, 19% are women of Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal and Palenquero ethnicity, and 5% are indigenous women. “As organizations, we have been insisting for two decades that the distinctive principle of International Humanitarian Law, which prohibits the involvement of rural communities in armed confrontations, be complied with, and that military facilities not be based in ancestral territories, because the militarization of those territories modifies their cultural approach and brings consequences like recruitment of children and sexual violence, and other human rights violations,” said Lina Tobón Yagarí, a member of the Akubadaura legal community.

After this wave of complaints, the Inspector General stepped in. Inspector General Fernando Carrillo ordered the creation of an elite group to investigate these events. The group is to be made up of assigned investigators from the Family, Human Rights, and Armed Forces sections of his office. “We have asked the Commander of the Armed Forces and the Director of the Police to send us all of the information related to cases of abuse and sexual violence attributable to members of the Armed Forces: time, place and location of each victim and whether the criminal authorities have been notified,” stated the Inspector General.

Profamilia, a nonprofit that fights for sexual rights has joined the debate as to how to avoid such cases in the future. This organization has asked for strengthening the training of members of the Armed Forces in recognizing and defending sexual and reproductive rights. In addition, the organization asked that “a humanitarian crisis of violence be put in place, such as the ones generated in the context of the armed conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Adriana Benjumea insists that these cases have not been exaggerated, because it’s very difficult for a victim to file a complaint of sexual violence, and when members of the Armed Forces are involved, victims find even higher barriers. “These acts are committed in regions where the Armed Forces have power, and many of the victims are threatened after the acts have taken place. Sometimes even it’s the superior officers of the soldiers implicated who try to negotiate the silence of the communities or of the families who live in poverty,” she emphasized.

Both Benjumea and Tobón also agree that the level of impunity in these cases is nearly total. For an example, they cite the case of Sergeant Juan Carlos Díaz, who reported  to Army superiors that his subordinates had sexually assaulted the Emberá child, and he was later discharged from the Army. The two human rights defenders pointed out that this sends a terrible message to the country, when a person who carried out his duty to inform superiors about the crime is punished. The Army, nevertheless, claims that the noncommissioned officer, as commander of the platoon that assaulted the indigenous child, had a duty to prevent the crime and he was discharged because of that.

“The legal system in this country has to have a serious conversation about the significance of sexual violence in the context of the war as well as outside of the war; whether it is done in private or in public, or when the aggressor is part of the family or is a stranger. I believe that this scandal in the Armed Forces is an opportunity for the country to think about this subject, without making any exception for any armed group. No young girl, young woman, or adult woman should have to be avoiding either the country or the city, so as not to be a victim of sexual violence,” concluded Benjumea.

[1] Temblores (literally tremors or earthquakes)

[2] CAI (Immediate Attention Commandos in English) Urban police

[3] Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

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