On March 17, WOLA and nine other national and international civil society organizations published a statement calling on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP)—the 2016 peace accord’s transitional justice tribunal—to open a macro case to investigate sexual violence in the context of Colombia’s internal armed conflict.
According to the organizations, Colombia has an international obligation to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and prosecute sexual violence perpetrated by both state and non-state armed actors and to provide reparations to victims. The obligation to document, investigate, and prosecute these crimes, particularly against women and LGBT+ persons, and to adopt a gender-sensitive analysis of major international crimes has taken root and become increasingly ingrained in the culture of international justice.
The peace accord and the norms that regulate the functioning of the JEP incorporate a gender-based focus that see sexual violence as an autonomous crime with no concessions. These obligations, together with the principle of centering victims, commit the JEP to prioritize the rights of all victims of sexual violence. The opening of a national macro case would make visible, in an autonomous and specialized manner, the way in which discrimination affects rights to sexual liberty, integrity, and autonomy of the victims. A macro case is essential to materialize the approach of centralizing victims, which should guide the actions of the JEP.
Given the historical and very high level of impunity for these crimes, along with the low level of acknowledgment by those responsible, the JEP has a responsibility to generate conditions to overcome these barriers and guarantee their rights to truth, justice, and reparation. Civil society and victims have insisted that this is an urgent measure for the satisfaction of victims’ rights, as opening the macro case would improve their situation. The peace accord and the laws that develop it gave the JEP instruments to investigate sexual violence.
Read the full Spanish statement here. Read the unofficial English translation here.
On September 15, Caribe Afrimativo presented to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jursidicción Especial para la Paz, JEP) a report detailing how the Colombian armed conflict’s violence targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) people. Submitted by the organizations Casa Diversa Comuna 8 in Medellín and the Crisálida Collective in San Rafael, with the support of Lawyers Without Borders Canada and Global Affairs Canada, this historic report establishes that conflict-related violence by state forces and paramilitary groups targeted LGBT+ groups.
Titled What We Lost (Lo que perdimos), the report submitted to the tribunal demonstrates how members of LGBT+ groups were targeted on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. The acts of prejudice-based violence identified in the report’s private testimonies establish how systematic attacks against LGBT+ groups were committed to achieve territorial and social control during the conflict. State forces and paramilitary groups threatened, humiliated, arbitrarily detained, forcibly displaced, sexually abused, and assassinated members of the groups in attempts to achieve military advantage in the conflict. Through either direct participation in the grave abuses or tacit complicity in cases committed by paramilitary groups, state forces played a decisive role in this persecution – a crime against humanity.
Private testimonies recount how LGBT+ community members resorted to travelling in groups to protect themselves from constant abuses. In Comuna 8, testimonies uncover how three social leaders from Casa Diversa were forcibly displaced, causing many other members to abandon the group and the area in fear of their lives. Other abuses at the hands of the Cacique Nutibara bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), in collusion with the Army’s Fourth Brigade, occurred between 1997 and 2008. In San Rafael, the Metro Bloc of the AUC assassinated the Crisálida Collective’s leader and acted in collusion with state forces between 1997 and 2001. Collected with the help of Caribe Afirmativo since 2018, the testimonies will help the JEP hold perpetrators accountable.
Caribe Afirmativo continues to work to amplify the voices of victims and their communities in Colombia’s transitional justice system. The organization presented a report to the Truth Commission, along with numerous technical documents that record the experiences of LGBT+ victims in Colombia’s armed conflict. Previous reports submitted by Caribe Afirmativo to the JEP focus on conflict-related violence against LGBT+ people. However, the testimonies in this latest report are unique because they provide evidence on how state forces and paramilitary groups targeted the leaders of locally based LGBT+ groups, who promote fundamental rights, democratic ideals, and peace, to permanently exterminate their presence in civil society. Therefore, this is the first report submitted to the JEP that reveals how LGBT+ groups, not only LGBT+ individuals, were subject to conflict-related violence.
The transitional justice system provides a key pathway for victims to seek truth, justice, and establish memory. It allows victims to get back what was taken from them: visibility, full exercise of their rights, and peace. As indicated by JEP Judge Reinere Jaramillo, the report “activates memory in a country where violence still persists.” Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for the LGBT+ community, despite progressive legislation and visibility. According to Colombia’s Ombudsman Office, just in 2020 thus far, over 60 LGBT+ persons have been killed. With this alarming statistic in mind, it is crucial to support the efforts of organizations and mechanisms working to understand the legacies of the past to ensure Colombia’s LGBT+ community is able to live in peace in a post-conflict setting.
A Spanish-language executive summary of the Lo que perdimos report is available here.
We’re pleased to share video of last Tuesday’s two-panel discussion of the state of Colombia’s peace accord implementation. The first panel presents the principal findings of the fourth comprehensive report on the peace accord by Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The second includes insights from experts on women’s rights, gender, and LGBT+ provisions.
This video does not include the translators’ track: speakers choose the language in which they prefer to speak. The first panel is in English, the second is in Spanish.
Join the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the International Institute on Race and Equality, the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), Colombia Human Rights Commission (CHRC), and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) for an online forum.
The inclusion of an Ethnic Chapter, as well as women’s, LGBT+, and gender rights issues in the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was not only historic, but a model for future peace accords globally. Now, in its fourth year of implementation, while the Colombian government has made progress in some areas, challenges remain in terms of implementing certain commitments in a timely, comprehensive way.
On June 16, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame published its fourth comprehensive report on the peace accord. As part of its formal role as an independent arbiter of Colombia’s peace deal, the Kroc Institute uses data collection and analysis, based on a wide array of quantitative and qualitative variables, to assess where Colombia is advancing in implementing the peace accord commitments and where challenges still remain. The Ethnic Commission, composed of leaders from Afro-Colombian and Indigenous territories and civil rights groups, also released its most recent report on the implementation status of the Ethnic Chapter.
Join us to learn more about the findings of these reports and updates from experts on women’s rights, gender, and LGBT+ provisions. U.S.-based organizations including LAWG, WOLA, and others will share a collective set of recommendations for U.S. policy towards Colombia entitled, “Protect Colombia’s Peace.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Colombians have been granted momentous protections over the past two decades. Included in these feats is the historic recognition of LGBT+ people in the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the first in the world to specifically include LGBT+ people. But nonetheless, ongoing violence against the LGBT+ community, especially against trans people, reflects a longstanding paradox in Colombia: on paper, the country has one of the strongest legal frameworks in Latin America defending the rights of LGBT+ people; however, in practice these protections are rarely enforced.
After Brazil, Colombia is perhaps the most dangerous country in the Americas for LGBT+ people. Last year, a study found that, out of nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia registered the highest number of killings of LGBT+ people over a five-year period. In 2020, attacks against LGBT+ leaders and trans people continue even amid the COVID-19 lockdown. So far this year, in the Caribbean region alone, at least 15 LGBT+ people were killed. As Pride Month comes to an end, civil society groups and Colombia’s LGBT+ community persist in an ongoing struggle to combat stigmatization, secure justice for past crimes, and ensure that authorities implement protections as guaranteed under the law.
Colombia at the forefront of the LGBT+ movement in Latin America
Colombia has experienced significant milestones in terms of political and other forms of representation for LGBT+ people, paving the way towards a more inclusive society. In October 2019, Bogotá elected Claudia López as their first woman and lesbian mayor. Various elected representatives across national, departmental, and local levels like Andrés Cancimance in Putumayo and Oriana Zambrano in La Guajira identify as LGBT+. Television shows continue to feature more LGBT+ characters and media coverage of LGBT-related issues has grown more consistent. These increased levels of visibility are a result of tireless campaigns by civil society groups and activists that work to educate and transform society.
Legal victories led by local civil society organizations and grassroot movements have lent significant momentum to the fight for LGBT+ equality in Colombia. In 2015, trans people over the age of 18 were given the right to change their legal gender on all identification documents. The following year, same-sex marriage was legalized. Other progressive legislation upholds the right for LGBT+ individuals and couples to adopt, protections on employment discrimination and hate crimes, and explicit penalties set in the National Police Code for any acts of gender-based discrimination. These landmark decisions by the Constitutional Court and legislation enacted by the Colombian Congress are legal breakthroughs that place Colombia at the forefront of the LGBT+ movement in Latin America.
Even the historic 2016 peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Colombia contains a differential focus on gender. Through a Gender Subcommittee that included an LGBT+ representative, the negotiating actors recognized that women and LGBT+ people were disproportionately affected by the armed conflict, and correspondingly, 41 gender-specific provisions were included throughout the agreement. Including this focus on women and LGBT+ groups helped make Colombia’s 2016 peace deal one of the most inclusive peace agreements in history. According to LGBT+ rights group Colombia Diversa, though many of these provisions remain stalled, about 70 percent have at least begun implementation.
One key mechanism in the peace agreement includes the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), one of three separate components that make up the current transitional justice system. As a result of the work conducted by Colombia Diversa and Caribe Afirmativo, the most prominent LGBT+ organizations in the country, the JEP opened two cases on the persecution of LGBT+ people during the armed conflict. Two reports submitted by the organizations to the JEP outline the systematic violence perpetrated by the FARC and paramilitary groups against LGBT+ people in Nariño and Antioquia. The JEP is therefore the first transitional justice tribunal in the world to recognize that, in the scope of the armed conflict, LGBT+ people were targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The backlash against a so-called “gender ideology”
Discrimination towards the LGBT+ community still persists in Colombia, the result of longstanding stereotypes and misinformation spread about gender identity and sexual orientation. This harmful rhetoric is expressed in part through an opposition movement seeking to curtail greater recognition of LGBT+ rights, rallying against a so-called “gender ideology.” This questionable argument is not unique to Colombia and the Americas; it is a global strategy led by evangelical factions that seek to undermine the rights of women and LGBT+ persons. Proponents of this argument target LGBT+ organizations because their existence and work defy the patriarchy, heteronormative norms, and religious beliefs.
In 2014, student Sergio Urrego died by suicide after facing discrimination from school officials because of his sexual orientation. Following this tragedy, the Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that school handbooks across the country had to be revised to address bullying of LGBT+ students. Then, in 2016, Former Minister of Education Gina Parody, who also happens to be a lesbian woman, obeyed the ruling and published an extensive manual with recommendations to schools on how to prevent discrimination and how to have conducive conversations with students about gender identity and sexual orientation. It ignited national controversy, however, as evangelical and conservative sectors claimed that the Ministry of Education was promoting homosexuality and indoctrinating a “gender ideology” among schoolchildren.
These same sectors were mobilized to sustain fierce opposition to the peace process with the FARC. Propaganda around the so-called “gender ideology,” supposedly embedded in the peace agreement, ultimately contributed to the failed 2016 plebiscite. The final peace agreement with the FARC in November 2016 removed several references to “gender’”and “LGBTI”, and even downright eliminated any mention of the term “sexual orientation.”
While the 2016 peace agreement still affords recognition to LGBT+ people, the removal of these specific references to appease to conservative sectors is indicative of the powerful role that LGBT+ prejudice continues to play in Colombian society. It also reveals the continued need to ensure protection and guarantees to LGBT+ Colombians, even outside the framework of the peace agreement.
Violence against LGBT+ Colombians
Anti-LGBT+ rhetoric contributes to alarming increases in hostility and violence against queer Colombians. Between 2014 and 2018, over 545 LGBT+ Colombians were assassinated. Members of the public security forces are most responsible for acts of violence and harassment against LGBT+ Colombians, according to a 2020 report by Colombia-based NGO Temblores. This violence highlights the concerning gap between Colombia’s progressive legal protections and the actual enforcement of said protections.
Unfortunately, gathering current data on such abuses and violence against LGBT+ Colombians is limited for various reasons. Wilson Casteñada, director of human rights group Caribe Afirmativo, notes that local organizations are largely responsible for documenting cases of LGBT+ violence. State entities do not maintain databases that register these abuses, and when they do exist, they lack the political will and funding to be maintained properly. Additionally, there is a strong probability that violence against LGBT+ people by public security forces is underreported, as those who experience this violence may be reluctant to go to the authorities to report these crimes. All this contributes to a lack of detailed data on violence and crimes not just against Colombia’s LGBT+ community, but across the region.
Transphobia is rampant in Colombia. Trans people who are sex workers face particularly extreme levels of violence and harassment because stigmatization around sex work increases the risk that such reports of violence are not taken seriously. This was seen in a recent case on May 29 when Alejandra Monocuco died after she was wrongly denied medical treatment and transportation to the hospital in an ambulance. On June 20, five transgender sex workers were brutally attacked by members of the Colombian National Police in Bogotá. These incidents are commonplace because cultural stigmas allow for physical and structural violence against the trans community.
The exclusion faced by trans Colombians was also made evident in the state’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under pico y género, a sex-based quarantine measure temporarily implemented in Bogotá and Cartegena, women and men were allowed out for essential tasks on alternating days of the week; trans women and men could go out according to their gender identity. According to trans rights organization Red Comunitaria Trans, in Bogotá the policy resulted in some 20 cases of targeted discrimination against trans people. The measure is an example of how state policies often overlook the realities of discrimination and institutional violence against gender nonconforming and trans people.
The struggle for LGBT+ rights must continue
LGBT+ Colombians have many reasons to celebrate. But their battle for ensuring the enforcement of gender identity and sexual orientation protections continues. Implementing and enforcing the mechanisms designed in the peace agreement are also challenges that not only affect LGBT+ people, but also affect Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities who are silenced in similar ways.
It is precisely the work of civil society groups and activists that made the current feats possible and this work must be amplified. The international community should continue to hold authorities accountable for enforcing the laws set forth to protect the rights of LGBT+ people. And ultimately, that support must account for the intersections among class, race, ethnicity, and disability that deepen the discrimination faced by the LGBT+ community in Colombia and beyond.