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UK government called on to help address sexual violence in Colombia

23 April 2013 - UK agencies warn that despite some advances made by the current Colombian government, significant human rights concerns persist. They are calling on the UK government to raise the issue of conflict-related sexual violence at a United Nations review in Geneva today of human rights in Colombia.

Louise Winstanley of ABColombia, which advocates on human rights in Colombia, said: 'We are asking that the UK support civil society organisations that work with victims of sexual violence by providing legal advice, documentation of their cases, psychosocial support and accompaniment throughout the whole process.

'Although peace talks are underway after five decades of conflict in Colombia, the violence continues in certain parts of the country. There is a vast under reporting of cases of sexual attacks that occur, and a failure to prosecute that amounts to impunity.

'Women in Colombia who have suffered sexual abuse lack access to long term psychological support. Without the support of local women's organisations, many survivors would be too scared to come forward in the first place.'

UK agencies Christian Aid and CAFOD are particularly concerned at recent legal changes, which put evidence-gathering for conflict-related sexual crime in the hands of the military.

'In peaceful countries like the UK, reporting sexual crimes is hard enough for the victim. Imagine how difficult it will be if the first person a woman has to report to is a member of the military, and the person she is accusing is part of the same institution,' said Ms Winstanley.

'We want the UK to urge Colombia to modify the new law, so that the military are not responsible for the collection and evaluation of information, or we will face an increase in impunity.'

The UN's Universal Periodic Review of Colombia comes at an important time for the country. Peace talks are under way and advances have been made with the law in relation to land restitution, although challenges in the implementation still need to be resolved in order to ensure the safe and sustainable return of displaced communities to their land or territory.

However, only two per cent of all reported cases of conflict-related sexual violence face prosecution.

Of 183 cases that human rights lawyers managed five years ago to get prioritised as emblematic of the problem, just four have been brought to trial.

In addition, attacks on human rights defenders continue. Last year 69 in total were killed, with the numbers recently rising year on year.

Thomas Mortensen, country manager of Christian Aid in Colombia, said: 'We welcome the recent G8 declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict which among other things, has stated that there should be no safe haven for perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict.

'We hope that the UK will also use the opportunity of the UN review to shine a light on the pressing situation in Colombia', he added.

Case study: human rights defender  

Elizabeth, a human rights defender, went to the home of a victim of sexual violence in a rural area to document her testimony.

The victim's husband had been killed by paramilitaries and she had been raped, as a result of which she was pregnant.

While Elizabeth was documenting the woman’s testimony, three hooded paramilitaries entered the home: the victim was raped again to prevent her talking, and Elizabeth too was raped.

After reporting what had happened to the Attorney General's Office, Elizabeth was subsequently attacked again.

She was the 14th woman in the area to report sexual violence and has since fled after surviving two subsequent kidnap attempts.

'The only thing that they want is to disappear me' she says, adding that every step she takes towards justice brings a new threat.

Extract from:Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle for justice in Colombia – AB Colombia report (PDF)

Audio: Alirio Uribe, a Colombian lawyer 

Alirio Uribe, a Colombian lawyer paints an overall picture of the human rights situation in Colombia ahead of a UN review taking place in Geneva in April 2013, a process called the Universal Periodic Review.

Alirio talks about the government efforts to tackle the problem as well as areas of concern.

AudioBoo file:http://audioboo.fm/boos/1347779-colombia-time-for-human-rights

Spokespeople Available: in Spanish and English in Geneva and the UK

If you would like further information please contact Johanna Rogers jrogers@christian-aid.org +44207523 2460. 24 hour press duty phone – 07850 242950 



Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. We believe that the underlying causes of poverty were made by, and can be ended by, human action. Our strategy for building the power of us all to end poverty is embodied in a new report ‘Partnership for Change’: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/2012_strategy.pdf

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk

AB Colombia is the advocacy project of a group of five leading UK and Irish organisations with programmes in Colombia: CAFOD, Christian Aid UKI, Oxfam GB, SCIAF and Trócaire. Amnesty International and PBI are observers

Christian Aid in Colombia

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