WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

8 Mar 2019 | Press Release

Report Details Colombian Government’s Failure to Protect Female Afro-Colombian Human Rights Defenders

Washington, DC—A report by authored by Afro-Colombian civic organizations details how the Colombian government’s failure to fully implement its historic 2016 peace accord has left Afro-Colombian women human rights defenders at risk for increased threats of violence without access to justice. The report was authored by civic groups Proceso de Comunidades Negras, MADRE, and members of the Afro-Colombian women’s movement including black, raizal, and palenquera women in their diverse identities, with support from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.

The report examines how the failure to enforce key peace implementation laws and programs has generated consistent and systemic conditions of violence perpetrated against Afro-Colombian women. These persistent conditions make it all the more crucial that the Colombian government move to fully implement aspects of the 2016 accord that would finally bring peace, justice and security to ethnic communities in historically conflict-ridden areas. 

“Afro-descendant women in Colombia are doing much-needed work to support members of their community in denouncing gender violence and other injustices, so that survivors and their communities can heal,” said Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRE. “This is the kind of reconstruction that will help Colombia achieve meaningful peace. The role and voices of Afro-descendant women must be made essential in this process. Both Afro-descendant women in Colombia and their communities should be consulted, and should participate in a meaningful way, as the implementation of peace progresses and peace negotiations with the ELN appear on the horizon,” Susskind said.

Based on interviews with Afro-Colombian human rights defenders, human rights and new reports, available government data, and other documents, the report identifies various threats facing Afro-Colombian women leaders. These include a lack of access to justice and healthcare for survivors of conflict-related violence, the failure to protect Afro-descendent land rights, and the failure to fully implement the Ethnic Chapter and other gender justice provisions in the 2016 peace deal.

While Colombia has registered a dramatic spike in the killing of social leaders and human rights defenders since the signing of the accords, a lack of government data makes it difficult to quantitatively assess how these increased threat levels have impacted Afro-Colombian women specifically. The report did find that the Victim’s Registry Unit in the National Institute of Health registered 24,576 victims of conflict-related sexual violence in 2017. Data also shows that gender-based crimes face a high rate of impunity: by the end of 2017, the Attorney General’s Office had issued indictments in just 17 percent of cases of conflict-related sexual violence, with only 5 percent resulting in convictions.

“Colombia already has many laws in place dealing with conflict-related sexual violence and other crimes disproportionately suffered by Afro-Colombian women and female humans rights defenders,” said WOLA Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez Garzoli. “What’s missing is the political will to actually enforce these laws.”

The report, which was submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva on February 26, emphasizes the need for the Colombian government to consult with Afro-Colombian communities in developing and implementing protections measures that actually work. Some examples described in the report demonstrate how the government has occasionally provided ineffective “protection” measures —such as assigning white bodyguards in predominantly Afro communities—that only serve to make female defenders more visible, vulnerable, and at risk. Frequent, repeated rhetoric by government officials painting female Afro-Colombian defenders as “criminals” has also increased threat levels and the sense of insecurity experienced by women in these communities.

For more on the report’s findings, see WOLA’s analysis.

Read the Report