Lessons learned from armed conflicts in Colombia and Guatemala to prevent violence against girls and women

The armed conflicts in Colombia and Guatemala were among the most extensive and violent in Latin America. Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war to subject women and communities to control and fear, in addition there were multiple forms of sexual violence and the perpetrators acted with absolute impunity. Over time, many of the survivors of sexual violence during the armed conflicts in both countries are breaking the silence and beginning to demand justice; They also demand strong actions to prevent these events from recurring and to end violence against girls and women in the present.

The conflict in Colombia, which seemed to end with the signing of the Peace Accord, lasted six decades (1960-2016) and involved various armed groups – guerrillas and paramilitaries, several linked to drug trafficking – and the armed forces of the Colombian state. The National Centre for Historical Memory (CNMH for its name in Spanish, Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica) recorded that 218,094 people died; there were 27,023 victims of kidnapping; 11,751 victims of massacres; 25,007 victims of forced disappearance; 5,712,506 victims of forced displacement; and 1,754 victims of sexual violence (CNMH, 2012). In Guatemala, the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH for its name in Spanish, Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico) established that during the armed conflict (1960-1996) more than 200,000 people died, 45,000 disappeared and more than one million were internally displaced. It estimated that on average 75% of the direct victims of all crimes (arbitrary executions, torture, deprivation of liberty) were men and 25% were women. However, in the case of enforced disappearance, 88% were men and 12% women. In the case of sexual violence, 99% of the victims were women, and 88.7% were Mayan women (CEH, 1999: 19).

In both countries, the signing of the Peace Accords was positive, but violence in general and sexual violence continue to affect the lives of women, particularly indigenous women in the case of Guatemala and rural women in Colombia. There are still regions with high levels of conflict, and sexual violence continues to be used as a mechanism to exert control and fear over women and their communities. Similarly, judicial processes for acts of sexual violence in the context of conflict in both countries have provided important lessons learned and have resulted in landmark and ground-breaking sentences. Nevertheless, impunity levels remain high. As the UN Secretary-General stated in 2020, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the principle of the Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, “systematic and grave human rights violations; widespread impunity; hate speech, exclusion and discrimination … can all increase the risk of atrocity crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity” (United Nations, 2021:2).

This Policy Paper aims to identify good practices of policies and

2 Policy Brief: Lessons learned from armed conflicts in Colombia and Guatemala to prevent violence against girls and women

measures to prevent sexual violence and violence against girls and women in post-conflict countries, based on the experiences of Guatemala and Colombia. These can contribute to the design and implementation of measures to prevent sexual violence. The document was prepared on the basis of case studies in each country by member organisations of Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC), as part of the Americas Initiative, Corporación Humanas in Colombia and Impunity Watch in Guatemala.

This document is organised into four chapters, the first on sexual violence, its use in war contexts and as an atrocity; the second on measures that have been implemented by states and civil society; the third on lessons learned; and finally a chapter with recommendations.