The Colombian state has been found responsible for the kidnap, torture and rape of a prominent journalist who was abducted while reporting on her country’s civil war, in a landmark ruling from the inter-American court of human rights.
Jineth Bedoya, who has been pursuing justice for over 21 years and now campaigns against sexual violence, was recognised by the court on Monday as having suffered “grave verbal, physical and sexual aggressions” for which the state was responsible. Before now, only three of her attackers had faced justice, receiving sentences in Colombian courts in 2019.
Following the announcement, while her legal team also celebrated the news, Bedoya tweeted on Monday evening: “18 October 2021 goes down in history as the day when a fight – which began over an individual crime – led to the vindication of the rights of thousands of women who are victims of sexual violence, and of women journalists who leave a part of themselves in their work.”
Jonathan Bock, director of Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), which has provided legal assistance to Bedoya, said: “This ruling sets a precedent that will remind governments that it is not possible to ignore violence against the press, and less that they can be tolerant of state agents who are perpetrators.
“This ruling gives society and female journalists the tools to make gender violence visible.”
Bedoya was abducted on 25 May 2000, outside the Modelo prison in Bogotá, where she was due to interview an incarcerated paramilitary leader. She was drugged and driven hours outside the city, where she was tortured and gang-raped.
“It’s difficult to understand what happened, all I know is that I wanted to die,” Bedoya told the Guardian in 2019.
When authorities failed to properly investigate the attack, Bedoya began probing independently, eventually securing the support of Flip and the Centre 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 rights to [Bedoya’s] personal integrity, personal freedom, honor, dignity and freedom of expression”.
The court also ruled that the Bedoya’s attackers could not have carried out the abduction and assault “without the acquiescence and collaboration of the state”, and that the government failed to protect Bedoya and her mother, Luz Nelly Lima, from threats and persecution 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 recusal of five of the six judges attached to the case. After a widespread backlash, the government later resumed its participation.
A peace deal signed in 2018 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) leftist rebel group formally ended five decades of war that left 260,000 dead and displaced more than 7 million, with state-aligned paramilitary groups and other leftist rebel armies contributing to the bloodshed.
Sexual violence, though widespread, was often obscured by other atrocities and tended to be ignored or met 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 of Historical Memory.
“Jineth Bedoya has been tirelessly seeking justice for more than 20 years,” read a statement from Cejil posted on Twitter. “The decision of the court is dignifying for Jineth, for female journalists who face gender violence, and for the thousands of victims of sexual violence of Colombia’s armed conflict.”