Press Release

IACHR Vehemently Condemns Rape of Indigenous Girls and Adolescents and Calls on Colombia to Investigate Events with Due Diligence

July 17, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - In response to publicly available information regarding new cases of rape involving indigenous girls and children by members of the Colombian Armed Forces, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its fierce condemnation and urged the Colombian state to investigate these cases without delay to comply fully with its obligation to investigate, prosecute, and sanction those responsible for them and to provide protection and comprehensive reparation for the victims and their families.

According to publicly available information, on September 8, 2019, a 15-year-old indigenous adolescent fom the Nukak Makú people was allegedly kidnapped and held for four days at an army camp where she was raped repeatedly by members of the Colombian Army. She was found walking naked along the highway on September 13, 2019. The IACHR is aware that a criminal investigation into the case has been opened within the civil justice system and a disciplinary procedure was begun at the start of the year by the Guaviare Regional Attorney’s Office, five months after the events allegedly occurred. No progress has yet been made on punishing those responsible and providing reparation for the victim and her family. The IACHR noted that the State has called on the competent authorities to make progress on the ongoing investigations.

The IACHR has also been informed of the a further five alleged cases of rape of indigenous Nukak girls from the same reservation by Army personnel. In addition to these events, on June 22, an indigenous girl from the Embera Chamí people in Pueblo Rico, Colombia, was kidnapped and subsequently gang-raped by eight military personnel, in response to which the IACHR issued Press Release No. 153/20, expressing its condemnation. The IACHR has been informed by the State of the progress that has been made on identifying, capturing, prosecuting, and punishing the seven people responsible for these crimes, to which around a hundred investigators from different areas were assigned. It also indicated that the soldiers’ commanding officer had provided support for the victim’s family in the process of filing their report with the Prosecutor’s Office.

The Colombian Army also announced at a press conference that since 2016 at least 118 military personnel have been identified as having been involved in cases of alleged sexual abuse. Likewise, the Deputy Attorney General announced that the Attorney General’s Office would be investigating nine other cases of sexual violence against indigenous girls. The IACHR is seriously concerned that these cases are part of a possible pattern of behavior among members of the Colombian Army. On this point, the IACHR emphatically condemns gender violence of all kinds, particularly sexual violence by state agents against indigenous girls and adolescents.

The IACHR acknowledges that when the State was informed of these events, it publicly condemned all forms of violence against women, girls, and adolescents. Nevertheless, the IACHR emphasized that the particular risk and violence that indigenous women and girls face should be analyzed in the context of the circumstances in which they live, taking into account the differentiated impacts that derive from this and the fact that they are disproportionately vulnerable to attacks from both state and nonstate armed actors, while also being more exposed than any other group to acts of sexual violence due to the multiple forms of discrimination that they suffer and the vulnerability of their territory.

The IACHR also warns that violations of the rights of indigenous girls and women not only impact them individually but also have a negative affect on their peoples, causing serious ruptures to the social fabric and increasing their sense of defenselessness and impunity. As a consequence, the IACHR urges the State to take all these factors into account and to pay particular attention to the violence faced by indigenous women, girls, and adolescents in Colombia at the hands of both state and nonstate agents, in order to immediately adopt all measures needed to prevent, reduce, and eliminate any form of discrimination, including sexual violence, and to guarantee respect for and the protection of indigenous territories in the presence of armed state and nonstate agents and other external actors.

The IACHR calls on Colombia to guarantee access to justice for all women and to continue investigating these events with due diligence and under conditions of equality and nondiscrimination, taking an intersectional perspective. The IACHR reminds the State of its international obligation to investigate these acts, taking into account the principle of enhanced due diligence, ensuring the investigation is carried out from a gender perspective and a comprehensive approach to protection for women, including girls and adolescents, giving due consideration to the fact that two or more factors of discrimination intersect in these cases.

In the particular case of indigenous women and children, the State must consider all the different risk factors they may encounter as a result of their ethno-racial origin and age, as established in articles 6 and 9 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women. While recalling the serious repercussions brought about by the lack of due diligence in investigating and sanctioning acts of gender violence, the IACHR also emphasizes that impunity around theses crimes sends a message that violence of this sort is tolerated, which favors its continuance.

Similarly, the IACHR urges the State to respect standards on indigenous peoples’ right to participation in political and public life and to grant comprehensive reparations with a gender perspective so as to eradicate the structural causes that accentuate discrimination and violence against women, particularly those who belong to at-risk or vulnerable groups, such as indigenous girls and adolescents. Any reparations granted by the State should also include an intercultural and intergenerational perspective, and can include both individual and collective reparations that take into account they ways in which sexual violence impacts both individuals and their families and communities.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 166/20