Human Rights Watch calls on Colombia to toughen domestic violence laws

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Washington, Nov.15 (ANI): Colombia's laws on violence against women are not adequately protecting victims displaced by the armed conflict, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has said in a new 101-page report released this week.

The report titled "Rights Out of Reach: Obstacles to Health, Justice, and Protection for Displaced Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Colombia," documents how recent improvements in Colombia's laws, policies, and programs on rape and domestic violence have not translated into more effective justice, healthcare, and protection for displaced women and girls. More than half of the country's roughly four million displaced are female.

"For many displaced women and girls, the hardships of displacement are compounded by the trauma of rape and domestic violence," said Amanda Klasing, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "And despite good laws and policies that have been enacted in recent years, they still face enormous difficulty in getting the medical attention they're entitled to. And, they rarely see their abusers brought to justice."

Colombia has high reported rates of rape and domestic violence generally, and national surveys have found even higher rates among the displaced. A 2011 government sponsored survey found that almost 48 percent of displaced women reported suffering domestic violence, and more than 9 percent reported being raped by someone other than their partner.

This compares to 37 percent of women in the general population who reported intimate partner violence, and 6 percent who reported rape by someone other than their partner, in a 2010 national survey. Official data on violence against women is limited, however, especially on sexual violence related to the conflict and displacement.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Colombian Government to collect this data, to better adapt its laws and policies to protect displaced women and girls.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 displaced women and girls, nearly all of whom were victims of rape or domestic violence, living in 4 major cities, along with more than 100 government officials, health care practitioners, rights advocates, service providers, and other civil society representatives who have worked extensively with victims of rape or domestic violence.

One displaced woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch was raped five times over the course of a decade; her sister was also raped, along with her sister's 5-year-old

Victims and advocates told Human Rights Watch that officials sometimes asked rape victims humiliating questions about past sexual history, what the victim was wearing, and what she did to provoke the attack.

Colombia has one of the most advanced legal and policy frameworks in the region to address violence against women and girls. Colombia's criminal code, laws on the rights of the displaced, and Constitutional Court rulings also address rights and remedies for victims of violence against women.

Colombia also has innovative protection measures for victims of gender-based violence and for human rights defenders. These programs offer essential, sometimes life-saving support. Yet displaced women leaders - as well as rights advocates and service providers - identified shortcomings in how these measures work specifically for displaced women.

One important concern is that children are not in practice covered by protection measures assigned to them by the National Protection Unit, despite threats against them and despite a ministry of interior protocol allowing them to be covered.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Colombian Government take steps to close the gaps in laws and policies to help displaced women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence by:

. Establishing an independent commission to conduct a rigorous review of current practices in institutions that directly provide care or services

. Collecting accurate data regarding the scope of gender-based violence related to the conflict and displacement

. Expanding, strengthening, and ensuring continuity of training programs for health and justice system employees

.Carrying out public awareness campaigns to familiarize displaced women and girls with their rights and the services available to them

. Passing pending legislation on access to justice for victims of sexual violence to facilitate successful prosecution of perpetrators of gender-based violence crimes. (ANI)

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