Insight with Jineth Bedoya Lima “The bodies of women are weapons in all wars”

December 5, 2013

By Phoebe Hall

On Wednesday 4 December the Frontline Club welcomed Jineth Bedoya Lima, a journalist with Colombian national newspaper El Tiempo and recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage Award, to discuss her prolific journalistic career and work in combatting violence against women. The discussion, chaired by The Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy, largely focused on the “habitual, extensive, and systematic violation” of women in Colombia, the record levels of impunity for crimes of sexual violence, and Colombia’s peace process.

Whilst on assignment for the daily newspaper El Espectador in her native Colombia, Jineth Bedoya Lima was abducted, tortured and raped by members of the AUC, a right-wing paramilitary group. She was kidnapped again in 2003 by left-wing FARC guerrillas whilst investigating a FARC-held town forced into cocaine production. Vulliamy introduced Bedoya Lima with the statement that “in terms of courage and endurance and experience, there’s nobody…who knows what Jineth knows.”

L-R: Ed Vulliamy, Jineth Bedoya Lima, James Lupton

L-R: Ed Vulliamy, Jineth Bedoya Lima, James Lupton

When questioned by Vulliamy as to how she was able to return to work just 15 days after her first abduction, Bedoya Lima responded (with the help of translator James Lupton):

“I believe as a journalist I fell in love with the profession from the first day that I started it – and they say that love conquers all… But also I had a need to know what had happened… and why.”

Vulliamy raised the issue of the proliferation of conflict-related sexual violence:

“This is not some byproduct of warfare, this is the quintessence of what is happening, it is at the core of what is happening. Great hidden, unspoken crime and horror that appears to an ubiquitous experience.”

Bedoya Lima offered examples specific to Colombia:

“There are dramatic cases in rural areas in Colombia where women have been beaten, where their breasts have been cut off, where they’ve been amputated, where  – and this is especially a practice of the paramilitaries – they’ve been abused and beaten in order to serve as a warning.”

She later added that “the bodies of women are weapons in all wars”.

The question of impunity for crimes of violence against women was explored, with Bedoya Lima highlighting striking statistics:

“In Colombia, the levels of impunity for crimes of sexual violence have reached 98%…Of the 150,000 rapes of women that had been recognised by the paramilitary groups, only 2 have resulted in guilty verdicts. The levels of impunity are just terrifying.”

An audience member enquired as to whether recent attempts to publicise Colombia as a tourist destination – and the optimistic terms in which the country is currently being discussed – were beneficial to Colombia’s future, or if they were in fact distracting the focus away from the scale of systematic violence. Bedoya Lima responded:

“I want to hear people speak well of my country. I love Colombia…But we can’t allow that to happen behind a smokescreen that tries to cover up…the bad things that are happening… Medellin has just been named the ‘Innovation City of the World’…and that’s true for the people who have got the money to enjoy it…but just 15 minutes away from the beautiful, innovative centre of Medellin there are 10 year old children…who are packing a pistol!”

Another audience member asked whether it was realistic to hope for the active involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) given the level of impunity for crimes of sexual violence in Colombia. Bedoya Lima:

“In Colombia, there is only one case of sexual violence that has been recognised as a crime against humanity – and that’s my case. But even in that case, there has been no will shown by the government, or by the state to punish the perpetrators…. So it is our hope, as survivors of sexual violence, that with the pressures and the actions of the ICC, that something might be done about sexual violence in Colombia.”

A member of the audience asked Bedoya Lima whether her trip to Europe had been successful in drumming up international support for an end to conflict-related crimes of sexual violence in Colombia. She responded:

“For me, this has been a very positive trip… I do think that we are going to be able to exert a certain amount of influence over the negotiations in Havana (the site of recent peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels), and also on the Colombian government and the state, in order for them to act against sexual violence.”

Bedoya Lima closed the discussion with mention of her recent victory in drawing up an agreement with the Colombian Football Federation, in partnership with the UN, forcing footballers to publicly denounce crimes of violence against women, in order to raise awareness amongst Colombia’s male population.

The ABColumbia report, entitled Colombia: Women, Conflict-related Sexual Violence and the Peace Process, is available for download here.

A video of the event is available to watch below: