Last year, Charo Mina Rojas became the first Afro-Colombian woman to ever address the UN Security Council, spotlighting the need to incorporate protections for Afro-Colombian people in Colombia's peace implementation plan.
Last month, Charo once again addressed the Security Council, this time on the topic of children born of rape. While Colombia is the only country to legally recognize children born of wartime rape as victims of the conflict, significant gaps in actual rights protections and reparations remain for both survivors of rape and children born of rape. Below is a transcript of Charo's statement.
Greetings and thank you for this opportunity to speak on this critical issue. My name is Charo Mina Rojas and I am part of Proceso de Comunidades Negras, a network of Afro-descendant organizations and individuals united for human rights, including collective and territorial rights in Colombia.
Colombia certainly has taken important legal steps toward recognizing sexual violence as a crime against humanity and formulating some special measures to assist and repair its victims, including children born out of rape. The Colombian Constitutional Court deserves particular recognition for its active and continuous ruling for the Colombian government to meaningfully act.
However, as Madame Zainab Bangura, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict stated after her visit to Colombia in 2015, “the main challenge is how to turn the resolve into tangible solutions in communities where this crime continues to occur.” She particularly called on Colombian authorities to end the silence and impunity surrounding sexual violence and its consequences.
Sadly, despite important advances in the legal framework, silence and impunity continues to characterize the response to sexual violence in Colombia, and many barriers prevent the survivors, mothers as well as children, from the legally mandated reparations. As of early 2018, for example, no children born of rape during the Colombian conflict have yet received reparations under the Victims Law 1448.
One of those serious barriers to reparations is stigmatization. Children born from members of US troops present in Colombia during implementation of the US policy Plan Colombia” (2000-2010), many born out of unreported rape, are known in the port city of Buenaventura as “the children of Plan Colombia”. Likewise, the children whose fathers-perpetrators were or are paramilitaries are identified as “paraquitos”. Women also face, as we very well know, multiple forms of stigmatization based on their economic condition, situation of displacement, race or ethnicity that add to the factor of being victim of sexual violence and pregnant, or having a child that is the product of rape. The fear of mothers to pass the stigma to their children, be rejected or judged by them, or cause to them further pain and shame, has frequently prevented women from reporting rape and the identity of the perpetrator father. Without being reported, neither the woman nor the child will receive the benefit of the present regulations and measures.
Services for victims of rape and children born out of rape are very limited, especially in rural or remote areas, and even in large cities not all victims have access to those services. In addition to rape, many survivors suffer reproductive violence, stemming in part from a lack of access to reproductive health services. Furthermore, government institutions such the Victims unit or Bienestar familiar fail to account for culture and ethnicity and thus fail to meet the specific needs of Indigenous and Afro-descendant survivors. To this lack of differential approach is added the lack of financial resources allocated to these entities at the local and regional levels, especially for services for Indigenous and Afro-descendant groups. In consequence, mother and children- survivors of sexual violence don’t receive adequate and sustained psychological assistance, and due to fear, not even spiritual relief, as important as that is for certain cultures. Thus, the lack of available resources to bring attention to survivors of sexual violence is another great limitation to the implementation of the important legal framework and programs in Colombia.
It’s important also to identify that, great inequalities –economic, gender and racial gaps-- among Colombia’s society, as well as gender and racial prejudices, also play an important role in the exclusion of survivors of sexual violence from vulnerable sectors, such poor, Indigenous, and Black/ Afro-descendant women, from access to services, justice and reparations. Racial and economic inequalities are a third factor of limitation that the Colombian state must address to make laws and programs translate into meaningful protection of victims, including children.
In the context of post-peace agreement, the lack of State presence in certain regions of Colombia and the tendency to militarize instead of provide humanitarian security, is extremely concerning as it fuels the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual violence and its consequences. Due to recurrent silence, impunity and inadequate documentation and systematization of cases, it is not possible for the government to evaluate or respond to the magnitude of the situation of sexual violence in zones where the internal armed conflict has reignited.
Further barriers for mother and children survivors to access to justice are the current administration’s threats to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). While the JEP is beginning to process cases, proposals to eliminate article 213, which contains provisions obligating JEP to refer victims of SGBV to healthcare systems, threaten to diminish its ability to address the needs of survivors of SGBV. Without the government’s political will to fully support the special jurisdiction system and to respect its autonomy, survivors fear that access to truth, justice and reparations will become pure rhetoric.
Some recommendation from the Security Council to the Colombian government we would like to suggest:
For the Colombian government to urgently fund a UNICEF/UN Women proposal to conduct an ethically-informed needs assessment on children born of sexual violence during the Colombian conflict to promote a greater understanding of the dimensions of the protection gap and help remove barriers to implementation of reparations for children born of sexual violence under the 2011 Victims Law 1448 and decree-laws 4635 and 4633 for Afro-descendant and Indigenous victims respectively.
To ensure that children born of sexual violence and women and girls who have suffered reproductive harms (whether civilians or former combatants) are given due priority in transitional justice mechanisms and “post-peace accord” dialogue.
Ensure that safety, confidentiality and ethical considerations are fully factored into all political, policy and legal processes and deliver meaningful, transformative reparations for both groups.”
Develop a pedagogy and communication strategy to educate civil society, authorities, government officials and staff on the principles and right of non-discrimination in all forms, in order to attend to and prevent further stigmatization of mothers and children survivors of sexual violence.