A.        Characteristics of the Colombian armed conflict


34.     The IACHR has repeatedly manifested over the gravity of the human rights situation in Colombia and the systematic and widespread violence that is part of the daily life of the civilian population, affected by an internal conflict that has lasted for four decades.[25]  In particular, during the last fifteen years, acts of violence perpetrated by the actors in the internal armed conflict have resulted in serious human rights violations and/or violations of international humanitarian law against the civilian population.  The IACHR has expressed its concern over the perpetration of acts of violence that have worsened the humanitarian crisis which affects over two million persons and has caused thousands of casualties.[26]  Colombia is immersed in a dramatic spiral of violence affecting all sectors of society, undermining the very foundations of the State, and moving the international community as a whole.  Undoubtedly, this is one of the most difficult and serious human rights situations in the Continent.[27]


35.     The struggle for territorial, economic and military control is conducted by the Security Forces, in defense of the State, and by two illegal armed groups: the guerrilla – mainly represented by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (hereinafter "FARC-EP") and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (hereinafter "ELN"), and paramilitary forces, mainly grouped into the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (hereinafter" “AUC"), comprising a number of blocks operating in different areas of the country.  Guerrilla groups arose in the decade of the sixties and grew during the seventies and eighties.  In reaction to the emergence of these dissident armed groups, the State authorized the formation of "self-defense groups" with civilians not subject to mandatory military service to “contribute to reestablishing normalcy”.[28]  By the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, the self-defense groups became much stronger by allying with economic and political sectors in several parts of the country and took part in grave acts of violence.  Towards 1989, the State changed the norms that authorized these self-defense groups to operate, but did not take the necessary measures to guarantee their dismantlement.  Consequently, their influence was not only sustained, but it spread and consolidated in 26 of the 32 departments of the country and in 382 of the total of 1,098 municipalities.[29]


36.     Given the characteristics of the conflict, its historical development and the economic interests at stake, the illegal armed groups have generated a combination of alliances and at the same time clashes with the drug traffic and even members of the Security Forces, whose involvement with the paramilitary groups has been documented by the Commission, as well as by United Nations agencies and by numerous international and local non-governmental organizations.[30]  Based on what has been established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, although the State claims not to have any official policy of encouraging the formation of paramilitary groups, this does not relieve the State of its responsibility for the interpretation that was given for years to the legal framework that supported them; for the disproportionate use made of the weapons they were given; and for not taking the necessary measures to prohibit, prevent and properly punish them for their criminal activities.  Moreover, members of the Armed Forces and the Police in certain areas of the country have encouraged self-defense groups to develop an offensive attitude towards anyone considered to sympathize with the guerrilla.[31]


37.     In any case, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups have imposed their presence in the country’s corregimientos and municipalities by punishing and wielding social control over the civilian population, especially when community members are perceived to sympathize with adversary groups, often simply for not showing or not having shown resistance against them in the past.  These punishments involve massacres of vulnerable groups, such as indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, in order to force survivors to displace; and selective assassinations and forced disappearances of social and union leaders, human rights defenders, justice officials, journalists and candidates for popular election.  In particular, the guerrilla has employed attempted attacks with explosives of an indiscriminate nature and kidnappings as a strategy.


38.     During the month of August of 2002, some leaders of the AUC publicly expressed their intention of negotiating the terms for demobilization of their forces with the administration of President Uribe.  In this regard, on July 15, 2003, a preliminary agreement was reached, which has resulted in the establishment of a zone to locate and materialize a series of demobilizations in different parts of the country for the forthcoming months.  From February of 2004, the process has been monitored by a special mission established by the OAS Secretary-General.[32]


39.     In addition to belonging to an illegal armed group, many members of the AUC involved in the demobilization process have been accused of perpetrating serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations against the civilian population.  The IACHR has repeatedly expressed its concern over the lack of judicial resolution regarding most of these crimes. In some cases, the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have established the responsibility of the State, since major violations of the American Convention were perpetrated by these groups with the acquiescence of State agents.[33]  In view of this situation, the IACHR and other international bodies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations in Colombia, have stressed that the demobilization process must be accompanied by guarantees of respect for the State’s international obligations.


40.     On July of 2005, President Uribe enacted Law 975, known as the “Law of Justice and Peace”, which establishes the legal framework for the demobilization of members of illegal armed groups, involved in the perpetration of major crimes against the civilian population in the context of the armed conflict.  On May of 2006, the Constitutional Court of the Colombian Republic declared the constitutionality of this Law in global form, established conditions for its interpretation and declared some of its clauses ineffective.  The IACHR has publicly stated its general observations regarding the contents of the Law of Justice and Peace,[34] as well as in regard to the Constitutional Court’s pronouncement.[35]  In this respect, the IACHR has called on the State’s institutions to give full effect to the Court’s decision and has formulated recommendations aimed at strengthening the mechanisms available for establishing the truth of what happened, to administer justice, and to provide reparations to the victims of the conflict that has affected Colombia for more than four decades.


41.     In sum, the conflict is at a crucial stage in which both negotiations with dissident armed groups and the respect to commitments of cessation of hostilities must be guided by the principles and norms established in international law, in order to overcome armed conflicts, and the content of the States’ obligation to guarantee justice, truth and reparation to all persons under their jurisdiction.


B.        Dynamics of the armed conflict that particularly affect women in Colombia


42.     The enactment of international human rights instruments protecting the rights of women reflects a consensus and acknowledgement among the States regarding the discriminatory treatment that women have traditionally suffered in their societies.  Some examples of discrimination suffered by women in the Americas, both in peace and conflict times, and in the presence of legislative and public policy developments, have been an unequal participation in civil and political affairs; a limited access to the benefits of their societies’ economic and social development; an unequal treatment within their families; and being victims and exposure to different forms of violence against women, and abuse of their bodies, including psychological, physical and sexual violence.[36] 


43.     Moreover, binding instruments such as CEDAW and the Convention of Belém do Pará have established that violence against women is based on and is caused by elements of discrimination, stereotypes, social and cultural practices based on the concept that women are inferior.[37]  Discrimination against women and gender stereotypes promote, validate, increase and aggravate violence against women.  The two Conventions obligate State parties and their agents to take affirmative measures to eliminate socio-cultural patterns and stereotypes which promote discrimination against women, in all of its forms, and its most serious consequences, such as violence against women.[38]


44.     Colombia has been no exception to this pattern of discrimination and violence against women.[39]  The IACHR has reported in the past its concern over the gender-based discrimination affecting Colombian women, particularly in the domains of work, education and participation in political affairs, as well as the different forms of violence.[40]  By 1998, the Committee overseeing compliance with CEDAW, in the context of reviewing the report presented by the State of Colombia, expressed its concern over the lack of a State policy aimed at eliminating cultural traditions and sexist stereotypes that encourage discrimination against women.[41]  Despite this and the State’s efforts to improve this situation, Colombian women continue to be victims of different forms of violence, such as domestic violence and trafficking, among other manifestations.[42] 


45.     The IACHR has repeatedly stated that both civilian men and women in Colombia have their rights violated during the Colombian armed conflict and suffer the worst consequences.  However, although both suffer human rights violations and bear the burdens of this conflict, the effects are different for each.  The source of this difference is that Colombian women have suffered situations of discrimination and violence because they are women since they were born, and the armed conflict has worsened and perpetuated this history.  The violence and discrimination against women is not solely the product of the armed conflict–they are fixtures in the lives of women during times of peace that worsen and degenerate during the internal strife.


46.     Within the armed conflict, all the circumstances that have historically exposed women to discrimination and to receive an inferior treatment, above all their bodily differences and their reproductive capacity, as well as the civil, political, economic and social consequences of this situation of disadvantage, are exploited and manipulated by the actors of the armed conflict in their struggle to control territory and economic resources.   A variety of sources, including the United Nations, Amnesty International and civil society organizations in Colombia, have identified, described and documented multiple forms in which the rights of women are infringed upon in the context of the armed conflict, because of their condition as women. 


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[25] The IACHR has communicated its impressions and viewpoints on the overall human rights situation in Colombia regularly in Chapter IV of its annual reports for the years 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2002, 2003 and 2004, in its Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, OAS/Ser.L/V/II.102, Doc. 9, rev. 1, 26 February 1999 and in its Report on the Demobilization Process in Colombia, OAS/Ser.L/V/II.120, Doc. 60, December 13, 2004.

[26] According to Amnesty International, in the last 20 years, the conflict has taken the lives of at least 70,000 persons, most of them civilians killed outside of combat. See Amnesty International, Colombia, Scarred Bodies, Hidden Crimes: Sexual Violence against Women in the Armed Conflict, AMR 23/040/2004, p. 16

[27] IACHR, Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia (1999), Chapter 1, para. 1.

[28] Decree No. 3398 of 24 December 1965 “by means of which the national defense is organized”.

[29] IACHR, Report on the Demobilization Process in Colombia, OAS/Ser.L/V/II.120, Doc. 60, December 13, 2004, p. 25, para. 42.

[30] Amnesty International, Colombia, Scarred Bodies, Hidden Crimes: Sexual Violence against Women in the Armed Conflict, AMR 23/040/2004, p. 17.

[31] I/A Court H. R., Case of the 19 Merchants. Judgment of July 5, 2004. Series C No. 109, para. 124.

[32] On February 6, 2004 the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS), meeting in the framework of the Permanent Council, expressed their unanimous “unequivocal support for the efforts of the State of President Álvaro Uribe-Vélez, to procure a firm, lasting peace” in the Republic of Colombia and expressed their will for the Organization to support these efforts. Some weeks earlier, the former OAS Secretary-General, César Gaviria, and President Álvaro Uribe-Vélez had signed an agreement to establish a Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (hereinafter “the MAPP/OAS Mission”) with the mandate to verify the cease fire and the cessation of hostilities initiatives, demobilization, disarmament and the reinsertion of illegal armed groups operating in Colombia.  The Permanent Council resolution authorizes the establishment of the MAPP Mission and stresses the need to “ensure that the role of the OAS is completely in accordance with the obligations of its Member States in regard to the full enforcement of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

[33] In those cases in which it is possible for the Inter-American System bodies to exercise their jurisdiction–for example, cases in which State agents are held liable for actions or omissions in the death outside of combat of persons who cannot be considered legitimate military targets–the IACHR has processed petitions about alleged violations of human rights protected under the American Convention.  A large number of complaints have been resolved by the Commission and some cases have been referred to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, such as those involving the massacre of 19 Comerciantes in the Magdalena Medio in 1987; the massacre of civilians in Mapiripán (Meta) perpetrated in 1997; the disappearance of civilians in Pueblo Bello (Córdoba) in 1990; and the massacres of civilians in Ituango (Antioquia) perpetrated in 1996 and 1997.

[34] See IACHR Press Release 26/05 available online:  The IACHR press release observed that the adopted bill concentrates on the mechanisms to determine individual criminal responsibility in particular cases, in the framework of determining the individual criminal responsibility of those demobilized who seek refuge in the benefits of the law.  However, its provisions do not provide incentives for those demobilized to confess in an exhaustive fashion the truth about their responsibility, in exchange for the judicial benefits they will receive.  The IACHR also observes that the institutional mechanisms created by the law to administer justice–in particular the Prosecutor’s National Unit for Justice and Peace, composed of 20 prosecutors—lack the strength necessary to effectively assume the task of prosecuting thousands of massacres, selective executions, forced disappearances, kidnappings, tortures, forced displacement and usurpation of lands, amongst other crimes, committed by several thousand demobilized individuals during the many years that paramilitary structures have operated in Colombia.  Regarding the seriousness and complexity of the crimes perpetrated, the short deadlines and procedural stages provided for in the legal mechanisms to investigate and prosecute the demobilized individuals benefiting from the law also fail to offer a realistic alternative to fully determine individual responsibility.  The investigation of serious human rights violations requires broader deadlines and a greater degree of procedural activity.   In terms of the reparation of the damage caused by those responsible for the commission of heinous crimes, the IACHR emphasized that the law places more importance on the restitution of unlawfully-acquired property rather than on mechanisms that facilitate the full reparation of the victims.  Particularly, it does not specifically refer to reparation mechanisms for the damage to the social fabric of indigenous peoples, the Afro-descendent communities, or the displaced women, often heads of household, who rank among the groups more vulnerable to the acts of the armed conflict actors. 

[35] See Statement of the Inte-American Commission on Human Rights on the Constitutional Court's decision regarding the application of Law of Justice and Peace in the Republic of Colombia, available online: Comunicados/English/2006 /28.06eng.htm.

[36] See IACHR, Report of the Inter-American Commission on the Status of Women in the Americas, OAS/SER.L/V/II.98, doc. 17, rev., October 13, 1998.

[37] See Preambles of CEDAW and the Convention of Belém do Pará.

[38] See Preamble and Article 5 of CEDAW and Preamble and Article 6 of the Convention of Belém do Pará.

[39] The Presidential Advisory Office on Gender Equality (hereinafter “Presidential Office on Gender Equality”), the entity coordinating public policies for women in Colombia, has recognized that women are one of the population groups in Colombia most affected by inequality.  It has confirmed that the highest unemployment rate applies to women, the percentage of women in leadership positions involving decision-making and positions filled by popular vote is significantly lower than for men, and they are the primary victims of domestic violence, trafficking in persons and forced displacement.  The Presidential Office has verified how health services are insufficient to address the increase in teenage pregnancies, maternal mortality rates and cases of AIDS, and how school textbooks still contain sexist contents predisposing women to assume traditional roles. View Mujeres Constructoras de Paz y Desarrollo, Publication by the Presidential Office on Gender Equality in Colombia, November 2003, p. 7-9; the United Nations Development Fund for Women has recently stated that despite the increased inclusion of women in the labor market, their participation remains very low compared to that of their male counterparts. See United Nations Development Fund for Women, Report on the Situation of Women in Colombia, September 2005, p. 28.

[40] IACHR, Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia (1999), Chapter 1, para. 8.

[41] Report of Session 20 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, May 4, 1999, para. 381.

[42] The National Institute of Legal Medicine reported during 2004 that, of the total cases recorded nationwide of partner abuse, 91.2% corresponded to females.  Similarly, several State sources, the United Nations and civil-society organizations confirmed during the Rapporteur’s visit, that the country has become a major site of child trafficking, especially in tourism centers, where there are packages offering sexual services with minors. See Publication 2004 Forensis: Data for Life, National Institute of Legal Medicine, Bogotá, May 2005, p. 139.  In addition, representatives from the Office of the Attorney General confirmed to the Rapporteur during her visit that 80% of trafficking victims are women.