Freedom of Expression

Press Release R177/19

CIDH presents case on Colombia to the IACHR

July 19, 2019

Washington, D.C. – On July 16, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the case 12.954, Jineth Bedoya Lima and other, regarding Colombia.

The case refers to the kidnapping, torture, and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima for reasons that may be related to her profession, as well as the failure of the State to adopt appropriate and timely measures to protect and prevent said events, despite knowing that the journalist was in a situation of risk due to her work. The journalist was kidnapped outside a national prison while working on a journalistic investigation regarding a confrontation between members of paramilitary and common criminal groups, which resulted in a number of deaths.

The Commission concluded that the journalist faced a real and imminent risk of suffering an attack or aggression, considering she was the victim of constant threats and attacks against her life and personal integrity, which were reported to State authorities on several occasions. Although the State was aware of this risk, it did not adopt the measures that could reasonably have been adopted to prevent violations of her right to life, integrity, and personal liberty, as well as her right to freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the Commission concluded that the State has a special obligation to act with due diligence to protect Jineth Bedoya from attacks against her personal safety and acts of sexual violence due to the level of sexual violence against women that characterized the Colombian armed conflict. In this case, the IACHR recognizes differentiated forms of violence and discrimination against women journalists, the differentiated impact of said forms of violence and discrimination, as well as the State’s special duties to protect women journalists, particularly the duty to prevent in cases such as the present one. The deprivation of liberty, the sexual violations and the attacks against Jineth Bedoya were carried out as a response to her journalistic work, hurting essential aspects of her life, including her rights to life, personal integrity, personal liberty, privacy, freedom of expression, and equal protection. The Commission determined that the State did not act with due diligence within a reasonable period of time to determine the identities of those responsible or the origin of said threats.

The IACHR concluded the State violated the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, since it did not act with due diligence within a reasonable period of time in the investigation of the facts. There were lengthy processes of evidentiary inactivity, and omissions in the collection of key evidence and its timely assessment, which led to a preliminary investigation of 11 years that did not achieve the clarification of the facts or the identification of those responsible. The IACHR considered that the investigation and judicial processes re-victimized the journalist Jineth Bedoya, since they were not carried out within a reasonable period and did not follow procedures in accordance to international standards for the investigation of sexual violence crimes. Finally, the Commission concluded that the absence of a diligent investigation for 18 years affected the psychic and moral integrity of the journalist's mother.

On its Merit Report, the Commission concluded that the State is responsible for the violation of the Jineth Bedoya’s right to life, personal integrity, personal liberties, private life, freedom of expression, equality before the law and judicial guarantees, as well as for the violation to the right to personal integrity in relation to her mother, Luz Nelly Lima. 

The IACHR recommended the State should conduct a complete, impartial, and effective investigation, within a reasonable period of time to establish all the circumstances surrounding the crimes committed against Jineth Bedoya Lima, including the possible participation of State agents, in order to guarantee Bedoya’s and her family’s safety. Additionally, the Commission urged Colombia to adopt guarantees of non-repetition to avoid similar issues in the future. In particular, it should adopt effective protection measures to guarantee the safety of women journalists who are exposed to special risks on account of the practice of their profession, from a gender perspective, and implement training programs for public servants, security forces, and justice authorities in order to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge to identify gender-based acts and manifestations of violence against women that affect female journalists, protect them in dangerous situations, and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. In that sense, the IACHR recommended the State should implement measures to raise public awareness about gender-based acts of violence against women journalists in order to completely fix the consequences of the violations declared on the report, including both material and immaterial losses.

The Commission presented the case to the Court on July 16, 2019 because it considered the State did not follow the recommendations established on the Merit Report. 

This case constitutes the first opportunity for the Court to rule on the State’s obligation to prevent when it comes to cases related to the right to freedom of expression of women journalists, and on the positive obligation to protect with a gender perspective to guarantee the safety of women when in situations of special risk, in one of the most dangerous regions in the world for the exercise of a journalism. 

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS). Its mandate comes from the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission’s function is to promote the observance and protection of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization in these matters. It is composed of seven independent members elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly, and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.