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Dispatches: Protecting the Victims of Colombia’s Bloody Conflict

Isabel P. (pseudonym) was sexually assaulted in 2011 by a man she believed had ties to a criminal gang that had emerged from one of the many paramilitary groups involved in Colombia’s bloody, five decade conflict. When she filed a criminal complaint, she asked prosecutors for protection, but did not receive any. Fearing for her safety, Isabel and her fled their home, staying with friends, being careful to move every few days. Several months later, she received a threatening phone call, which made her regret reporting the attack. 

Today, thanks to a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court of Colombia, women like Isabel may have a better shot at justice.

The court issued an order last week that protects and promotes the rights of women victims of sexual violence in connection with the conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the state. Violence associated with the conflict has driven more than 5.7 million people from their homes. Nearly one in two displaced women in Colombia has suffered gender-based violence, and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

A 2012 Human Rights Watch report documented many obstacles displaced women like Isabel, who were victims of gender-based violence, faced in accessing services, justice, and protection in Colombia. The court order calls on various government ministries to address these problems, including  a requirement to report progress in specific rape cases and design and implement trainings for justice officials.  Notably, the court asks the Attorney General’s Office to adopt a plan within three months to ensure that victims of sexual violence, witnesses, and their families receive adequate protection.

Perpetrators of sexual violence may try to silence their victims, but Colombian women violence should feel confident that authorities will deliver protection and justice if they report the crimes. This court order is an important blueprint for ensuring this happens. 

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