By María Isabel Ortiz Fonnegra, EL TIEMPO, October 1, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“The guerrillas came and they raped me, because the Army had been seen walking around in this sector. According to them, they raped me to show that they were the ones in charge here in this area. I didn’t have anybody to tell about it or to ask for help because while some of them were raping me, the others were holding me down and they told me to keep quiet or they would kill me on the spot.” This was one piece of a harrowing account from a woman who was sexually abused by men of the FARC in Arauca in 2007.
Accounts like hers, collected by the Truth Commission, are part of the chapter of the armed conflict in which the sexual crimes against women and the LGBTIQ+ population were used as part of the attacks in the conflict, something that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) will be investigating. The JEP has just opened its macrocase #11 on gender, sexual, and reproductive violence, and the crimes committed because of prejudice against persons with sexual orientation, expression and/or diverse gender identity (OSIEGD).
The nascent investigation will cover not only the serious crimes by the FARC, but also the outrages committed by members of the Armed Forces during the conflict.
The JEP order that opened this investigation suggests a preliminary figure of 35,178 victims of all of the armed actors between 1957 and 2016, but at first only 3,154 will be clearly within the jurisdiction of the JEP: the 2,051 attributable to the now-defunct FARC, and 1,103 that were committed by members of the Armed Forces. The JEP warns that the undercount means it’s doubtful that these are the only such events.
Even so, to get an idea of the magnitude of this violence, we see that of the 35,178 victims, 31,366 are women—girls and adults—(89.2%). There were also 12,352 (35.1%) of victims who were minor children, 1,078 boys and 11,055 girls. Of the total of the victims, 1,857 identify as indigenous people, 5,793 as Afro-Colombian, and 19 as Roma people (gypsies).
The data also say that these cases occurred in every department and were more concentrated in Antioquia (5,320 victims), Magdalena (3,346), Nariño (2,734), Bolívar (2,499), and Cauca (1,734). However, beginning with the undercount, the JEP centered on analyzing the victims’ accounts, and divided them into three sub-cases.
The violence by the FARC
One part of the investigation focused on the actions committed by members of the FARC against civilians. In this sub-case, they found two patterns. The first was actions against people identified as LGBTIQ+, and they have already documented 103 cases of those discrimination crimes. “They told us that we f—-s should not be permitted to live, that we were a sickness, a problem for everybody in the society,” says one of the accounts.
The second pattern was the violence against girls and women. One part of the crimes was committed because they thought the women were serving the enemy, but also because they disobeyed orders given them by the guerrillas. The account by one woman, who was abused because she wouldn’t let them recruit her son in Tolima, describes it this way, “They raped me and they made my children watch. I didn’t want them to take away my boy, the most sacred thing in my life (. . .) I screamed and I told him, ‘Papi, don’t look at the girl.’ The only thing he said to me was, ‘Mamita, I love you’.”
The JEP has also gathered evidence of violence against women who were looking for their loved ones who had disappeared, and they were even violated as a kind of punishment against the father, the boss, or the husband. These crimes are also based on the premise that the purpose of women is to serve men.
“The logic of these crimes is woven into the power relationship between the masculine and the feminine, between the heteronormative (heterosexual) and the diverse. What we’re seeing is the way these logics in the interior of the groups results in the commission of certain specific crimes,” explained Justice Julieta Lemaitre, who is overseeing this subcase. For this first phase, the JEP found a preliminary list of 68 former members of the FARC who are accepted to appear before the JEP, and who have been identified directly as people who committed the acts described by the victims in their accounts.
The Armed Forces line
A second subcase focuses on crimes by the Armed Forces against civilians. Up to now they have identified 246 events, with 293 victims, of whom, 290 were girls, women and OSIEGD persons.
With regard to the alleged actor, says the JEP, the accounts “involve members of the Colombian Army in 187 events; of the Police in 38 events; of the Navy in 16 events; and of the Air Force, one event.”
This chapter is also divided into two patterns, with the first pattern as violence against LGBTIQ+ persons, in which the preliminary numbers are 42 events with 46 victims. For example, they mention the case of a gay Afro-Colombian man who the Police were citing, together with his friends who were also LGBTIQ+. “They took off their clothes and forced them to perform oral sex or else they would rape them, threatening them with their weapons”, and at other times they collected them in SUV’s and took them to the highway and after taking off their clothes and raping them, “they kicked them out and left them on the highway, naked.”
A second pattern was the violence by government agents against women. Justice Óscar Parra, who oversees this subcase, said that preliminarily, they have found accounts that show how the Armed Forces took advantage of their daily presence in certain areas “to attack women and girls; other times it was because they assumed that they had some relation to illegal groups and they pressured them for information; other attackers were trying to get bogus confessions so that they could be prosecuted.”
That happened to a campesina from Nariño who was pregnant and whose husband had abandoned her. “(They said) that if my husband had escaped it was because he had been a guerrilla, so they had to get the information out of me in some way (. . .) they locked me up, tied me up, raped me (. . .) they tried to pull my baby out alive, they cut me with a surgical knife.”
Even though the investigation has barely begun, they have already identified a first group of 19 who have been accepted to appear before the JEP and they will be summoned to give testimony. They belonged to 20 tactical units in the Colombian Army.
Crimes within the ranks
Finally, the JEP will investigate the violence by the FARC and the Armed Forces against members of their own ranks. In these crimes, the exercise of hierarchy and threats against the victims predominate.
An example of that can be seen in the narrative of a young man who had been in the military for three days, when one night a superior woke him up and took him to his room. “He yelled at me and he told me that I had to carry out an order, as I was a recruit (. . .) he pulled my pants down completely and proceeded to fondle me; I told him there’s no way I’m doing this, and he started threatening me.”
The same thing happened in the ranks of the FARC, although there the victims were girls and women who, besides being sexually abused, had to experience forced abortions, forced birth control, or they were forced to give away their babies to third persons. There are stories so awful, like the woman who was forced to do a medical abortion when she was 7 months pregnant. “The next day, I had the baby, born alive. The doctor ordered me to throw him in the garbage alive (. . .) I pulled him out of the garbage and held him in my hands about half an hour until he died.”
What we have found, said Justice Lily Rueda, who is overseeing this subcase, is that “there was serious violence within the ranks of the FARC and of the Armed Forces which merits attention.”
Finally, the JEP’s order opens the door to joint investigations, as the gender violences were committed also within the framework of other violences that the Jurisdiction is already investigating in macrocases like #10, which analyzes crimes by the FARC that cannot receive amnesty; #9, which looks at crimes against territories and ethnic peoples; and #3, which investigates “false positives”, as there have been cases where there was sexual violence before the murder.
Also in macrocase #6, which is investigating the violence against the Patriotic Union Party, and in #8, about crimes committed by the Armed Forces in conjunction with the paramilitaries.
Justice and no repetition: the expectations of the victims.
The victims and women’s organizations have petitioned for years for JEP macrocase #11; and they now celebrate its opening as a victory. But they have high expectations about what’s to come, commented María de los Angeles Ríos, coordinator of the project of the National Women’s Network, which is part of the Five Keys Alliance, a platform that gathers several organizations which since 2014 are working for different treatment of sexual violence in the framework of the armed conflict.
“Even though the JEP is more than half through its term, we celebrate that because it’s turning into an opportunity to get away from the historic impunity that has affected the victims of these crimes,” she explained.
Specifically, regarding the time it took to open the case, the attorney commented that the delay could not result in the denial of the victims’ rights to obtain justice, and this is a challenge for the transitional justice system to use methods that will permit the investigation to advance rapidly.
Regarding the undercount of victims and the impunity that has historically surrounded these crimes, Ríos commented that the subject of numbers raises a challenge, but that the undercount doesn’t imply denial of the access to justice. “There has been sexual violence in all of the regions, and the JEP is called to identify the phenomena of the violence. There has to be a complete analysis, we need to ask ourselves what structural reasons made these events possible. We can’t start out with limitations like the number of the victims.”
In the same way, she underscored that the JEP is called upon to establish, in the framework of a process of restorative justice, “measures that can transform the structural conditions in the culture and the society.”
Finally, the attorney said that as organizations of civil society expect, that the JEP will undertake the investigations in macrocase #11 focused on gender, intersectionality, and based on the principle of victims’ participation.
And with regard to the victims, she pointed out that they generally hope that in Colombia there will be access to justice, that these events won’t remain invisible, “and that the different armed actors will understand that they can’t be committing crimes like these.”