Cali (Colombia), June 2021. A large group of women and young people are on the street. They talk, laugh, sing and demand a better life. Suddenly the light goes out. Police emerge from the darkness firing tear gas, grenades and rubber bullets.. A woman and her daughter run and are hit from behind by rubber bullets. The security forces touch their genitals. They finally let them go, but not before giving them a warning: “Whores, we are going to kill you. Take this message to all whores, that this can happen to them too.” This is not a scene from a horror movie. This is what has happened in Colombia during the so-called National Strike that took place between June and October 2021.
Now, Amnesty International, together with other local organizations, have compiled 28 testimonies that have served as the basis for the report The Police don’t take care of me: sexual violence and other gender-based violence in the National Strike, which was presented this Thursday internationally. This is just a sampling of what happened to hundreds of women and young people during those months, an ordeal that still continues due to the lack of action of the State.
This is the second report that this organization for the defense of human rights has produced on the incidents and state violence that took place in the Latin American country during the peaceful protests of the population last year. But this time, the focus is on sexual violence, a pattern that has constituted an organized and planned weapon to suppress protests, as revealed by the report that has documented 28 cases in detail. “This is just the tip of the iceberg, which shows a pattern of excessive force and sexual violence on the part of the security forces, which we can consider as massive,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General at a conference press from the capital, Bogotá.
Public followed the case of the young woman, Alison Liseth S., who was detained by the Police in Popayán, in the department of Cauca, who was on her way to a friend’s house when she came across the protest and began to take some photos . The Police stopped her and dragged her several meters towards the police car, while they groped her and harassed her. Hours later, she was released without any explanation and ended up committing suicide..
But the violence does not end here. The tremendous police repression and widespread sexual violence are just one of the patterns that Amnesty and other local organizations have been able to verify.
Another of the patterns is the judicial violence that followed the police. To date there has not been a single conviction for this violence and “the women who have dared to denounce the facts continue to live with the aggressors in their community,” says Callamard. Many are still afraid and others have even had to leave the country. This source recalls that touching genitals and acts of sexual violence are violations under international law. “Women and LGTBI youth who denounced this type of violence were not even heard. This is violence on the part of Justice“, they add.
Lastly, say Amnesty sources, the third conclusion of the report is the dehumanization, the silencing of the victims that persists to this day. For the organization, the campaign of police terror and then the judicial one that followed it had as an end “reduce women’s space for action. The security forces went against women and young people “because they gave legitimacy to the protests, which were mostly peaceful and the State could not consent to it and they made a plan to cancel them.” A cancellation that continues today by the security system and the judicial system.
This sexual violence was not only against the bodies of the women who were protesting peacefully in the streets of various cities in Colombia, the report states. It was also directed against women human rights defenders and against journalists documenting the protests..
The organizations demand the new government of Gustavo Petro to take urgent measures in the matter. “A government that was born with the challenge of change is obliged to break this pattern of impunity,” the organizations explain. They acknowledge that the actions did not take place under his mandate, but they recall that precisely the 2021 protests were the seed from which the new government was born and that if it wants to be faithful to its commitment, should take the necessary measures so that the security forces and justice “must be deeply reformed to put human rights at the center.” “There is a continuous damage that materializes not only in the harassment, but also in the lack of guarantees and the re-victimization”, Amnesty affirms.
“We have not come to count and denounce,” they add, “we have demands before this government for reparation and non-repetition.”