Laetitia Von Planta

Cite as

Colombia Position Papers 

Fighting the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war

Sexual violence has been used as an instrument of war during the Colombian conflict by most of the involved armed groups. Sexual violence was used as a form to torture and as punishment for opposition. Most important, it has been used to terrorise communities in order to impose military control over the corresponding territories. By exerting sexual violence, armed groups have systematically intimidated, wounded and terrorised their opponents. Sexual violence has become such a widespread practice in Colombia, that it should be regarded not “just” as a war crime, but also as a crime against humanity.

Sexual crimes include rape, sexual slavery, sexual abuse and violation to a woman’s right to reproduction. Sexual violence has caused extreme physical, psychological and social suffering for many Colombian women and girls.

The Colombian conflict evolved in the mid 1960’s when the Colombian government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and communist guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) started fighting each other to gain control over Colombian territories and increase their influence there (including their share of the lucrative drug trade). One of their frequently used weapons was sexual violence. During the conflict, it is estimated that up to 35% of Colombian women and girls suffered from sexual violence. In more than half of the cases, the victims were underage. But is practically impossible to quantify the crimes with any level of precision, since many women didn’t seek help and didn’t report the crimes. The reason why crimes are not reported is that the crime itself becomes a stigma. Women often blame themselves, thinking that they must have provoked the aggressor, or that they didn’t resist enough. Women also lack information from the government on where and how to ask for help. The silence of the victims made it even easier for the armed groups to commit their crimes with impunity.

The Rome Statute of 1998 is a treaty signed by more than 120 states around the world, including Colombia. It consists of a list of acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. To qualify as a war crime, sexual violence has to be committed during an armed conflict. To qualify as a crime against humanity, it has to be committed as part of a large or systematic attack against the civilian population. Sexual violence becomes genocide, when its goal is to destroy all or part of a population. All...