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COLOMBIA / PERU
War crimes
Julissa Mantilla Falcón
4/25/2006
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Violence against women in armed conflicts remains a mere sidebar.

For many years, violence against women during periods of armed conflict was viewed as a side effect of the central battle. It was not until the past decade when the Vienna Declaration of 1993, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and rulings by international courts on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia that violence against women came to be considered a violation of human rights and a crime against humanity.

The lack of a gender perspective in addressing the armed conflicts contributes to the invisibility of the female experience, not only when women are victims of rights violations, but also in terms of recognition of their participation as combatants and part of the resistance to the armed conflicts.

The bloody and long-lived conflicts in Peru and Colombia are two clear cases that included violence against women.

 

In Peru’s case, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concluded in its Final Report in 2003 that Peruvian women had been the  victims of a generalized sexual violence during the 1980-2000 armed conflict between the government and the Maoist Shining Path insurgency, as well as the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, though to a lesser extent.

The report noted that in addition to sexual violence, other forms of violence such as forced stripping, and forced pregnancies and abortions occurred, and in 83 percent of these cases, the crimes were carried out by government security forces.

Interestingly, the Final Report included a chapter on gender that analyzed the new roles for men and women that were established during the two decades of violence. The TRC noted female leadership in displaced communities fleeing the violence, in the searches for disappeared relatives and in civil society organizations that battled the subversive groups. Throughout the conflict, women developed "survival strategies for themselves and their loved ones and for the defense of their rights."

But the chapter on sexual violence states that reports of prostitution, rape (and resulting pregnancies), forced abortions as well as sexual slavery that women suffered were underrepresented because the victims felt fear, shame and lacked the support of their community or investigators. As a result, the TRC did not find information on judicial proceedings related to sexual violence against women during the conflict.

Women have fallen victim to sexual violence as a result of Colombia’s ongoing internal conflict as well. According to a 2004 report by Amnesty International violence against women, sexual exploitation in particular, including rape and genital mutilations — a practice most commonly associated with sub-Saharan Africa — were an integral part of the armed conflict. Women continue to be subjected to such violence by various parties involved in the ongoing conflict.

"Women are targeted by armed groups for various reasons: for breaking gender roles or challenging imposed prohibitions by armed groups, or for being considered a useful target with which to humiliate the enemy," the report said.

 

In both cases, violence against women during these periods has been a recurrent practice that has gone largely unpunished, making it all the more important to shed light on possible means to change the situation.

In the first place, lawmakers must follow and respect international laws, recognizing that violence against women is gender-based violence that must be punished at the national level.

For this to occur, violence against women can no longer be viewed as a footnote during these conflicts, so that perpetrators can be sanctioned for their actions. Also, governments must fulfill their international obligation to prevent human rights violations, investigate these cases, punish those responsible and compensate the victims.

These governments must comply not only with human rights agreements, but also with the recommendations of the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.

UN Resolution 1325 in 2000 established that governments must respect the international law applicable to the rights and the protection of women and girls during armed conflicts.

This latest measure should be applied when cases of sexual violence are processed, including the collection of evidence, victims’ declarations and the protection of testifying witnesses. Systems where these cases can be reported as well as methods for collecting testimonies must be updated to reverse the under-representation of this type of violence.

It is crucial for women’s specific needs to be incorporated into the peace and reparation negotiation policies in place in Colombia and Peru. This is also the case for the government’s health (including mental, sexual and reproductive health), education, political participation and social development policies.

 

*Julissa Mantilla Falcón is a Peruvian lawyer and former member of the legal team of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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