Carolina Solano Gutiérrez, a lawyer and Deputy Director for Justiciability at Christian Aid’s local partner in Colombia, Sisma Mujer, visited Dublin in the run up to the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaign to speak to politicians and Christian Aid staff about the ongoing work of Sisma to support survivors of sexual violence committed both during and after Colombia’s decades long conflict.
Sisma Mujer is a Colombian feminist organization who has worked since 1998 to end all forms of violence against women. They are an Irish Aid funded partner of Christian Aid Ireland who provide legal and psychological support to survivors of sexual and domestic violence and work towards ending impunity for these crimes in Colombia.
During her time in Dublin, Carolina discussed the work of Sisma over the last six years to document and present cases of sexual violence before national and international courts, including before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) which was created following the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016 between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The purpose of the JEP is to investigate and prosecute those responsible for sexual violence during the conflict, including the highest members in the chain of command.
A cornerstone of this work by Sisma has been to push for the JEP to open up a macro case (that groups individual cases together) on sexual, reproductive and other forms of gender based violence. Following six years of sustained advocacy on this issue by Sisma, the JEP finally agreed in September this year to open such a case. Carolina explained why it was so important for such a case to be heard.
“What has been happening in the JEP is that there are people who think that sexual violence was committed only by bad apple individuals rather than it being a military strategy of the armed groups,” Carolina said.
“We have been pushing for the court to recognise that sexual violence was committed by every armed group throughout the conflict,” she added.
Despite the signing of a Peace Accord with the largest guerrilla groups in the country in 2016, which formally ended more than 50 years of conflict, Colombia remains a very dangerous country for human rights defenders. During the first nine months of 2022, over 150 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia.
Female human rights defenders fighting for justice for survivors of sexual violence are also at risk of persecution and Carolina spoke about a case that Sisma has taken to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Yirley Velazco was a victim of sexual violence during a massacre that occurred in 2000. She has been subject to threats as well as attacks to herself and her home, and even had a family member imprisoned, for speaking out about what happened during the massacre and for encouraging other women survivors to come forward.
“Because she is denouncing cases committed by the armed forces, she’s getting a lot of pushback from people in power,” Carolina explained.
“The mayor of her city keeps saying that she has friends within the illegal armed groups which is completely absurd because she was a victim of sexual violence by one of these groups,” Carolina added.
Carolina also spoke of Sisma’s continued work to ensure that women’s voices are included when it comes to issues of peace and security. On the 21st November, negotiators from the Colombian government sat down for peace talks with members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining armed group.
“We have an alliance called Cinco Claves or five keys, an alliance of organisations that back in 2015/2016 pushed the government and FARC to ensure women were involved at the Havana peace accords,” Carolina said.
“We did this in hand with Christian Aid, also using the UN resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which was a crucial element of the peace talks,” she added.
Amongst its many provisions, UN resolution 1325 recognises that it is women and children who account for the overwhelming majority of those badly impacted by conflict and acknowledges the importance of women’s equal and full participation in peacebuilding.
While the role of women’s organisations in these latest rounds of talks between the government and ELN so far remains unclear, Sisma are pushing once again for women to be actively involved in the peace talks to ensure that justice for survivors of sexual violence is a key element of any agreement.