Armed conflict has plagued Colombia for more than half a century. In any armed conflict the impact on the civilian population, and women in particular, is immense. They carry the brunt of forced recruitment, sexual and domestic slavery, and rape. Women’s bodies can become a military tool and be exposed to various forms physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
The Victims and Land Restitution law was passed in 2011 in the presence of the UN Secretary- General, advancing truth, justice and reparations for victims. In the lead up to the law, UN Women worked intensively to incorporate a gender perspective and push the participation of women’s organizations in discussions of the law, which benefits nearly four million people, a large proportion are women.
The law includes a woman’s right to live free from violence and psychosocial care to survivors of sexual violence, and mandatory court representation for women survivors. The law also recognizes privileges for women on land restitution.
The challenge, according to the National Coordinator of UN Women in Colombia, Margarita Bueso, is to get the law enforced. “We must overcome the barriers to access justice in relation to sexual violence in the context of armed conflict, the prosecution of those responsible, appropriate sentencing, the clarification of the truth of what happened and reparation for victims,” she says.
UN Women in July 2012 signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Unit for Integral Attention and Reparation of Victims, the key agency of the Colombian government in implementing the law. The agreement ensures the inclusion of a gender registration process, attendance, and redress to women survivors of conflict. UN Women will train officials from the Unit for Integral Attention and Reparation of Victims, with special emphasis on sexual and gender-based violence.
According to Paula Gaviria, head of the unit, to apply for compensation “the person must submit a statement on the events before the ombudsman in their municipality. If the declaration is validated the person can be included as part of the Register of Victims to begin receiving compensation” she says.
The Unit for Integral Attention and Reparation of Victims is the first of four units that the Government of Colombia has established for survivors of war, along with the Protection Unit, Land Restitution and the Center for Historic Memory.