Press Release

IACHR Chair Concludes Visit to Colombia

October 10, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Tracy Robinson, undertook a visit to Colombia between September 29 and October 3rd, 2014, in her capacity as Rapporteur for the Rights of Women and Rapporteur for the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. She visited the cities of Cali, Bogotá and Cartagena. This visit to Colombia had two main objectives. One objective was to collect information on the challenges that women face in their access to complete, accessible, reliable, and timely information managed by the State in the fields of violence and discrimination; information which will be included in a regional report currently being prepared by the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women. Particular emphasis was placed on the situation of afro-descendent women. The second main objective was to meet with LGBTI human rights defenders and organizations, in order to seek information on the main advances and challenges with respect to the human rights situation of LGBTI persons in Colombia. Information received in this context will inform the regional report being drafted by the LGBTI Rapporteurship on the situation of violence against LGBTI persons.

The delegation met with Carlos Arturo Morales López, the Vice Minister of Multilateral Affairs, and Guillermo Rivera, the High Advisor on Human Rights to the Office of the President. The delegation formally requested meetings with state authorities in Cali, Bogotá and Cartagena in relation to its two main objectives. The Chair of the Commission and Rapporteur on Women and LGBTI Persons regrets these meetings were not granted by the State. The delegation was advised that due to the transition in state authorities dealing with human rights, these meetings would not be possible.

The delegation was once again struck by the vast differences in terms of the exercise and enjoyment of human rights by women and LGBTI persons in the capital city of Bogotá, in comparison to the rest of the country where the situation is far more precarious. These differences become readily apparent when comparing the situation of defenders and community leaders in and outside of Bogotá. Also, during the meetings the delegation was informed of the specific situations of discrimination faced by women and LGBTI persons who are also afro-descendant, internally displaced persons, children and youth, persons deprived of liberty, defenders, and those with a disability.

In connection with the rights of women, the IACHR delegation visited the localities of Cali, Bogotá, and Cartagena, and met with more than 50 women and civil society organizations in these cities. The IACHR delegation also organized two events in Cali –one academic and one public– to disseminate the legal standards of the inter-American system on the rights of women and the issue of access to information.

During its meetings, the delegation of the Inter-American Commission received numerous accounts of barriers faced by women in Colombia, in particular afro-descendent women in obtaining basic information from the State which is needed to exercise their human rights. They noted the existence of a legal and public policy framework to address the problems of violence and discrimination. However, they reported a great distance between this framework and its application in the realm of access to information. Victims, their family members, and the organizations that represent them, face significant roadblocks to obtain information regarding how the justice system is processing their cases of violence, the workings of the legal process in general, and methods to avail themselves of basic guarantees and protections provided by the law.

The delegation was also informed of the gaps in the State’s systems to collect statistics on the issue of violence against women, the lack of inter-institutional coordination within the government structure for this purpose, and the need to disaggregate those statistics on the basis of race, ethnicity, age, disabilities, and other factors. These barriers are particularly acute in the case of women affected by disabilities, living with HIV, and inhabiting rural areas. The Rapporteur reiterates that access to information is paramount to the exercise of all human rights of women, including their rights to live free from violence and discrimination, and to truth, justice and reparation.

The Rapporteur was greatly alarmed by information received confirming the pernicious effect of the armed conflict on the integrity, lives, and territories of afro-descendent women. Afro-descendent women are still affected by persistent discrimination and racism, often live in conditions of extreme poverty, and face daily barriers to exercise their rights to education, health, and employment, among others. They constitute a high percentage of the displaced population in Colombia, a problem which negatively impacts both their individual and collective rights, infringes on their relationship with the land, interferes with their traditions and culture, and breaks down their traditional forms of social and family organization.

Afro-descendent women of all ages also spoke to the IACHR delegation about acts of physical, psychological, and sexual violence perpetrated against them during the armed conflict by the different actors, in particular the use of rape to silence the work of human rights leaders and defenders, and how most of these acts end in impunity. The Rapporteur reminds the State of its obligation to take into account the multiple forms of discrimination consistently faced by afro-descendent women on the basis of their sex, race and condition of poverty, and to facilitate their participation in the development of legislation and interventions relevant to their human rights. The Rapporteur would also underscore the need to act with due diligence to address all forms of violence against women, including that perpetrated by State and non-State actors, and to offer reparations with a gender perspective to the victims.

With respect to the situation of the rights of LGBTI persons, the delegation met with more than 60 LGBT persons, defenders and activists, from the Departments of Amazonas, Antioquia, Atlántico, Bolívar, Cauca, Cesar, Córdoba, La Guajira, Magdalena, Nariño, Putumayo, Quindio, Risalda, Sucre, Valle del Cauca and the city of Bogotá. Also, on October 2, 2014, Chair and Rapporteur Tracy Robinson participated in a public panel in Cartagena on the human rights of LGBT persons, alongside state representatives from the Unit of Victims, and the Center for Historic Memory. Finally, the delegation held a half-day training on the Inter-American Human Rights System in Cartagena.

Regarding the human rights situation of LGBT persons in the context of the armed conflict, the delegation received troubling information on the situation of forced displacement of LGBT persons, in particular in areas of the country most affected by the presence of armed groups –including accounts of acts by paramilitaries and armed illegal groups- who specifically target LGBT persons, due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions. Of particular concern to the Rapporteur is information received concerning threats against LGBT persons, defenders and activists by these armed groups, including through text messages and pamphlets. In this trend, the Rapporteur is concerned about claims that the domestic mechanisms of protection are not effective in safeguarding the lives and personal integrity of LGBT community leaders and activists who do not fall under the established definition of “defenders.”

Furthermore, the delegation received troubling information on the acts of violence by armed groups, including killings, kidnappings, beatings, shootings, and other attacks, particularly against trans women and gay men, and instances of “corrective” rape of lesbian women, with the purpose of punishing their orientation, often purposely carried out in front of their partners. In this regard, the Rapporteur wishes to highlight that States have an obligation to prevent human rights violations by third parties, including illegal armed groups, particularly when the State knows or should know of the risk and can implement measures of protection.

Additionally, the Rapporteur is concerned about the absence of a comprehensive public policy concerning the rights of LGBTI persons, as well as the non-existence of a gender identity law. Also, the delegation received information concerning alleged actions by the Office of the Inspector General aimed at undermining the rights of LGBT persons. The delegation received troubling information on instances of police abuse, including acts of physical violence, illegal and arbitrary detentions and undue interference with the rights of LGBT persons, particularly trans persons, to freedom of movement. The Rapporteur is concerned by information received as to discrimination in access to employment, education and health services for trans persons. Finally, the Rapporteur remains concerned on information of discrimination and bullying faced by children, adolescents, and young adults, in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of education, due to their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. The delegation was also informed of the inclusion in school manuals of homosexuality as a basis for expulsion, and the alleged lack of State regulation in this regard. The Rapporteur recognizes that while there have been significant advances by the Constitutional Court in the recognition of human rights of all without distinction, including a recent decision which prevents potential employers to require trans women present the military card, which is mandatory for men. However, the Rapporteur remains concerned about information received on the lack of effective implementation of these decisions. The Rapporteur wishes to highlight that the State of Colombia has an obligation to prevent and guarantee the human rights of all persons, without distinction based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the intersection of issues of race, gender and sexual orientation, the delegation heard a story of a young afro-descendant woman, who after telling her father she was a lesbian, at the age of 11, was allegedly subjected to rape during a 14-year period, by her father’s friends, which resulted in five children. She alleges that she was not given information on health services or access to justice. After she managed to escape, she was then raped several times, at the hands of illegal armed groups, often in front of her partners as a punishment of her sexual orientation, and has been consequently internally displaced several times. The Rapporteur wishes to highlight that States must act with due diligence to prevent and investigate these serious human rights violations and to guarantee that women have access to justice and available health services which is paramount to the exercise of their right to live free from sexual violence.

With respect to the women’s rights component of the visit, the Rapporteur is grateful for the support provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency – ASDI-SIDA –, which made this visit possible. The Rapporteur would like to thank the support of the Colectivo de Mujeres del Proceso de Comunidades Negras, Kuagro Ri Changaina Ri PCN and Corporación Sisma Mujer. With respect to the LGBTI component of the visit, the Rapporteur would like to thank the organizations Corporación Caribe Afirmativo and Global Rights for their support. The Rapporteur would also like to thank the Unit of Victims of Colombia for making it possible for many LGBT activists to participate in a meeting with the delegation. The Rapporteur also expresses its gratitude to the State for the logistical support provided during the trip. Finally, the Rapporteur is grateful to all the persons who travelled from different regions of Colombia and met with the IACHR delegation, to share their stories and accounts of the impact of the armed conflict on their lives.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence

No. 118/14