Colombia must probe sexual violence by state forces: rights groups

By Anastasia Moloney BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Colombian women's rights groups urged the government to step up investigations of sexual violence committed by state security forces during a half century of war and ensure such crimes are addressed in any peace accord. The government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been holding peace talks in Cuba for nearly three years in a bid to end a 51-year war that has killed 200,000 people and displaced 7 million. Over the decades, thousands of women and girls, and to a far lesser extent men and boys, have been victims of sexual violence, which has been used as a weapon of war by all factions - leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups and government troops. Women's rights campaigners who met with peace negotiators from both sides during a two-day visit in Havana this week say the Colombian government is failing to adequately address sexual violence. "We are concerned about the current emphasis the state is putting on investigating sexual violence perpetrated by the FARC, leaving aside the responsibility of state security forces, paramilitaries and other private actors," 10 Colombian women's rights organizations said in a statement. They called on the government to do more to provide justice and support to survivors of sexual violence and punish gender-related crimes perpetrated by all factions. Armed groups have exploited women as sex slaves and used sexual violence to instill fear, get revenge, and impose social and military control, rights groups say. The government's official register of war victims lists 7.3 million people, including 11,300 who suffered sexual violence at the hands of warring factions. Colombia has passed laws to provide support and compensation for war victims, including survivors of sexual violence. But survivors face barriers when trying to report sex crimes and get justice, resulting in "chronic underreporting" of such crimes, said Zainab Hawa Bangura, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in armed conflict, during a visit to Colombia in March. In the past year about 60 war victims, including rape survivors, have traveled to Havana to give testimony to the peace negotiators. The negotiators have agreed on three of the five points on their peace agenda - land reform, the FARC's participation in political life, and the drug trade. They are now discussing victims' rights and punishments for those who have committed human rights abuses, including sexual violence. (Reporting By Anastasia Moloney, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit