The Colombian state has been found responsible for the kidnapping, torture and rape of a prominent journalist who was kidnapped while covering the civil war in his country, in a landmark decision of the Inter-American Court of Rights of man.
Jineth Bedoya, who has been pursuing justice for more than 21 years and is now an activist against sexual violence, was recognized by the court on Monday as having suffered “serious verbal, physical and sexual assault” for which the state was responsible. Previously, only three of his attackers had faced justice and had been convicted in Colombian courts in 2019.
Following the announcement, as his legal team also celebrated the news, Bedoya tweeted Monday evening: “October 18, 2021 goes down in history as the day when a fight – which began over an individual crime – led to the demand for the rights of thousands of women victims of sexual violence, and of women journalists who leave a part of themselves in their work.
Jonathan Bock, director of the Colombian Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), which provided legal assistance to Bedoya, said: “This decision sets a precedent that will remind governments that it is not possible to ignore violence against the press, let alone be tolerant of the state agents who perpetrate it.
“This decision gives society and women journalists the tools to make gender-based violence visible. “
Bedoya was abducted on May 25, 2000, outside the Modelo prison in Bogotá, where she was to meet with an incarcerated paramilitary leader. She was drugged and driven out of town for hours, where she was tortured and raped.
“It’s hard to understand what happened, all I know is I wanted to die,” Bedoya told The Guardian in 2019.
When authorities failed to properly investigate the attack, Bedoya began to investigate independently, eventually gaining support from Flip and the Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil).
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has jurisdiction over most Latin American states, ruled on Monday that Colombia was “internationally responsible for the violation of the right to [Bedoya’s] personal integrity, personal freedom, honor, dignity and freedom of expression ”.
The court also ruled that the Bedoya assailants could not have carried out the kidnapping and assault “without the consent and cooperation of the state,” and that the government failed to protect Bedoya and his mother, Luz Nelly Lima, of threats and persecutions in the years after the attack.
When the court heard Bedoya’s testimony in March, the Colombian government withdrew its representatives and called for the disqualification of five of the six judges attached to the case. After widespread backlash, the government then resumed its involvement.
A peace agreement signed in 2018 with the left-wing rebel group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) officially ended five decades of war that left 260,000 dead and displaced more than 7 million people, along with paramilitary groups. aligned with the state and other leftist rebel armies contributing to bloodshed.
Sexual violence, although widespread, was often masked by other atrocities and tended to be ignored or encountered with impunity. Between 1985 and 2016 alone, more than 13,500 women were victims of sexual violence during the armed conflict, according to a report by the National Center for Historical Memory.
“Jineth Bedoya has tirelessly demanded justice for more than 20 years”, we read in a Cejil’s statement posted on Twitter. “The court’s decision is dignified for Jineth, for women journalists facing gender-based violence and for the thousands of victims of sexual violence from the armed conflict in Colombia.