Colombia and Guatemala have both emerged from long civil conflicts (1960-2016 and 1960-1996 respectively) in which sexual and gender-based crimes played an integral tactical role.
In both countries, the signing of the Peace Accords was positive, but violence in general and sexual violence in particular continue to affect the lives of women, particularly indigenous women in the case of Guatemala and rural women in Colombia. Similarly, significant courtroom victories have not, to this day, turned the tide on rampant impunity for gender-based crimes.
State measures to address and prevent gender-based violence
In both countries, the States have passed a series of legal instruments and public policies as a result of the advocacy of the women’s and feminist movement.
From peace accords to national legislation and public policies, Colombia and Guatemala are equipped with relevant – albeit imperfect – tools addressing gender-based violence. The main issue resides in their implementation, found the authors of the policy brief (Impunity Watch and the Humanas Corporation): “women indicate that when men learn that there are laws that protect women, they are initially afraid, but when they see that the law does not reach them, their violent behaviour is reaffirmed and can worsen.” In other words, by failing to ensure accountability for gender-based violence, domestic legislation does not succeed in preventing future occurrences either.
Civil society measures to address and prevent gender-based violence
The policy brief finds that “measures for the prevention of sexual violence promoted by civil society have been varied, multidisciplinary and mainly promoted by women’s and feminist organisations”. These measures include:
- The documentation of violence, both for judicial and advocacy purposes;
- The litigation of strategic cases, which not only ensured accountability and reparation but also had a pedagogical impact, thereby contributing to violence prevention too;
- The care and accompaniment of survivors, making them less prone to experience violence again;
- Pushing for amendments and adjustment to the regulatory framework; and
- Liaising with and informing international human rights bodies.
Both Guatemala and Colombia, the participation of survivors and victims of sexual violence has been key to the advances achieved in all areas of transitional justice and the Peace Accords. They have been the ones insisting on the importance of profound structural and cultural changes to prevent sexual violence and other atrocities.
Lessons learned and recommendations
After fleshing out the lessons learned from the Colombian and Guatemalan contexts, the policy brief concludes by making the following recommendations:
- Strengthening the justice system for crimes of sexual violence in conflict situations: the preventive nature of justice lies in its capacity to punish and penalise those responsible, and to reduce levels of impunity.
- Develop a model for the prevention of sexual violence and violence against women in conflicts and peace processes, delving into the structural reasons that allow sexual violence and violence against women to prevail.
- Monitoring the situation of sexual violence and evaluating prevention programmes and policies, including with data and information disaggregated by sex, ethnicity, age and territory.
- Innovate and adapt prevention options: the prevention of sexual violence is not a one-size-fits-all approach.