One of the most advanced processes within this transitional justice system is Case 01, which is related to the former FARC’s serious deprivations of liberty. Despite progress and the hearing of a large number of victims, the investigations and indictment of high-ranking members of this former guerrilla group have raised a number of questions.

“My body is covered in scars…“ says Renata*, who was kidnapped in one of the country’s southern departments after her father refused to pay ‘vaccines’ or extortion money to the FARC, “… From being raped I developed various side effects. One of them is that I couldn’t get married.” She is one of many women who were sexually abused while in captivity.

Her testimony demonstrates one of the most heinous aspects of Colombia’s armed conflict: sexual assault against kidnapped victims. Its greatest occurrence is attributed to the former FARC guerrillas, an illegal armed organization that used captivity not only to finance its operations but also as a strategy of punishment, and territorial control and to put pressure on the government for a humanitarian exchange with its members behind bars.

Along with Renata’s testimony, there are others, including Carmen*, who says, “How many women like me have had to go through this pain? Because this is a pain that nothing can calm, you always carry it inside you. I demand that the FARC recognise that sexual abuse in kidnapping does exist; we were not asking for this.”

Overcoming several decades of silence, the voices of Renata, Carmen and many other women, as well as those of several men, grew stronger and decided to go to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), an entity created by the Peace Agreement that the Colombian State signed with the FARC in November 2016, where they hope that the truths hidden in jungles, mangroves and other places in the jungle will be revealed, heard, and the guilty parties will take responsibility.

However, the SJP is making these violations, as well as sexual and reproductive health violations, gender violence, and other crimes committed by members of the now-defunct guerrilla group against their captive victims, invisible. The victims and their representatives are disappointed by the lack of a comprehensive gender approach to applying justice and reparation for this and other crimes against humanity.

The vast majority of sexual violence crimes committed by the FARC go unpunished in the ordinary justice system. Despite the existence of complaints in many cases before the establishment of the JEP, there was no formal investigation into these acts. The perpetrators had not been called to account before justice, society, or their victims, and there had been no judicial decision on their liability.

This trend of impunity is precisely what this transitional justice scenario seeks to reverse. The SJP’s Chamber for the Recognition of Truth, Responsibility, and Determination of Facts and Conduct (SRVR) charged eight members of the former FARC’s Secretariat, the highest authority and decision-making body of that armed organization, with kidnapping and related crimes such as homicide, torture, forced disappearance, sexual violence, forced displacement, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in January last year.

To substantiate this indictment, established in the Auto 019 of January 26th, 2021, the SJP verified and compared 17 investigations into kidnappings provided by the Attorney General’s Office, the National Centre for Historical Memory, and civil society organizations; cross-checked six databases on kidnapped persons; received complaints from 2,548 victims; heard voluntary statements from 238 former FARC combatants, and gathered observations and questions from 1,028 witnesses.

Rodrigo Londoño, Pablo Catatumbo, Pastor Alape, Milton de Jess Toncel, Jaime Alberto Parra, Julián Gallo, Rodrigo Granda, and Juan Ermilo Cabrera (who died on January 27th, 2021) were charged with command responsibility for 21,396 kidnappings committed by former FARC members.

The JEP’s consolidation of the number of kidnapping victims more than doubled the highest register that existed in state institutions. The prosecutor’s office has two records of people kidnapped by the FARC: 7,068 in the Oral Accusatory Criminal System (SPOA) and 5,218 in the Justice and Peace System (SIJYP); the National Centre for Historical Memory has 9,264 victims in its database.

In terms of truth-telling, the JEP discovered that 1,861 kidnapped people (equivalent to 8.7 percent) went missing and 620 were killed in captivity (equivalent to 2.9 percent ). It was also discovered that the majority of kidnappings took place between 1998 and 2002, during the peace talks between the guerrillas and then-President Andrés Pastrana Arango (1998-2002); that the departments most affected by this crime were Guaviare, Vaupés, Caquetá, Meta, Vichada, Arauca, and Casanare, where the now-defunct Eastern Bloc operated; and that Antioquia has the highest number of victims.

It was also established that three patterns of abduction practice were used to analyze the cases: “to finance the armed organization, to force an exchange for imprisoned guerrillas, and to control the population of the territories by punishing them for various reasons, investigating them for their alleged closeness to the guerrilla’s enemies, or controlling the presence and actions of companies and public officials.” It did not, however, establish a line of investigation that specifically investigated crimes involving sexual and gender-based violence, which may have resulted in the under-reporting of cases.

The SJP, on the other hand, concluded that, while the former FARC established financial commissions to track down and abduct people with “high income,” the majority of the kidnappings were random, with no prior knowledge of their income or property, and were carried out at illegal checkpoints. Furthermore, it was determined that 2% of the cases involved hostage-taking.

Another significant point established by Auto 019 concerns the so-called care commissions, which were in charge of the abducted persons’ custody. The SJP established that their fate and treatment were in the hands of the guards on duty, who were only instructed by their superiors not to kill them, especially if they represented a potential economic income, and who took no interest in giving instructions on how to treat the victims, nor did they punish them for ill-treatment or conduct investigations into the abuse and torture they incurred in.

Despite the fact that Auto 019 is blunt in some of its accusations against former members of the FARC Secretariat, the outlook for crimes of sexual and gender-based violence committed in captivity is bleak.

Victims await answers spoke with some of the accredited victims of sexual violence in captivity in Case 01: All of the interviewees demand that their rights to truth, justice, and reparation be guaranteed; that they be told why they were kidnapped and used as a weapon of war.

They are women who remained silent about the horrors they witnessed in captivity for fear of being stigmatized and faced retaliation, as they were threatened with attacks on their families. And this silence, which had accumulated over decades, was finally broken when they turned to the JEP, overcoming potential risks and re-victimization with great courage.

In this transitional justice space, the victims have found some answers, but they have not lived up to their expectations. “From the FARC to the JEP, I hope that they accept what they did first and foremost because they (the Secretariat members) are denying it. Why was I the one to pay if my father was the problem?” Renata insists. “… And why did they cause me such anguish? Let them tell the truth because they ruined my life.”

This desperate appeal comes in the midst of FARC participants’ denials or disqualifications before the SJP, who have refused to accept the facts of sexual violence. They should have accepted them when responding to the facts attributed to them in Auto 019, but they did not, failing to fulfil their obligation to provide full recognition and truth in order to make reparations to the victims and reap the benefits of transitional justice.

In this regard, Yury Flórez Cubillos, a lawyer with the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), who represents 30 kidnapping victims who suffered sexual and gender-based violence in captivity (28 women and 2 men) before the SJP, notes that, during their voluntary hearings, former Secretariat members and other ex-combatants try to shield themselves by claiming that sexual violence was not permitted under the former armed organization’s statutes.

The FARC’s response to Auto 019 is a line of denial. They say things like, “What this person says is not true because there was no one of that name in our ranks at the time”, “we did not operate in that zone” or “this could not have happened because the people we delegated to the care commissions were exemplary guerrillas”, and so on, according to the victim’s representative.

Flórez adds that the FARC’s response undermines the possibility of more victims reporting and being accredited in Case 01, “because sexual violence has a problem of under-reporting due to shame, discrimination, and re-victimization that the Jurisdiction cannot continue to reinforce with these omissions.”

Victims’ advocates believe that if the SJP produces results in investigating and punishing cases of sexual violence, it will establish a principle of legitimate trust, encouraging many more victims to come forward.

Carmen* was kidnapped for four years in the country’s east. She was imprisoned after visiting a guerrilla camp to inquire about one of her missing sons, whom she was told had been recruited by the FARC. Despite breaking her silence, she is sceptical of her ability to obtain comprehensive justice.

“As I previously stated, there is no such thing as truth. They will never admit it. They will never acknowledge it, just as if you put a note in your pocket and it stays there. That is exactly what will happen with the truth. They will never admit it “, she bemoans. She was transferred to several camps during her captivity, where she was raped and physically abused by a well-known guerrilla commander.

Carmen* dared to speak out about the sexual assaults she had suffered to the JEP after much hesitation and at the insistence of a friend. There, she demanded that the promise to tell the truth about what happened during the armed conflict be kept: “What can one expect if a commander commits sexual abuse, if one always expects protection from the highest authority in the region? How many other women have had to go through this? Because this is a pain that nothing can alleviate, you must always carry it within you. I demand that the FARC acknowledge the existence of sexual abuse in kidnappings; we, I repeat, did not ask for this.”

Rosa*, who was kidnapped and raped by members of the former Jacobo Arenas Mobile Column in the country’s south and threatened with the death of her children if she tried to flee, echoed what was previously said, stating that “we women cannot continue in this humiliation, of being mistreated so badly. No more and no more. This cannot continue in our country, especially not by these people, who not only kidnapped us but also mistreated and humiliated us.”

The stories of these three victims underpin one of the questions that the Five Keys Alliance, made up of Sisma Mujer, the National Women’s Network, Women’s Link, the Humanas Corporation and Colombia Diversa, raised in Auto 019: the SJP should have made a “more detailed analysis of the modus operandi of sexual violence, the motivations or purposes of the same and the way in which it affected women and LGBT persons deprived of their liberty differently, using illustrative cases as a strategy to overcome the lack of information due to the under-reporting and normalisation of sexual violence.”

No gender focus

“The FARC-EP committed the war crime of sexual violence against captives. These are particularly serious acts, but in themselves, isolated”, reads Auto 019. The SVRV interprets these facts as “isolated”, based on the victim accreditation forms – which do not even have a specific question about acts of sexual violence in captivity – and because “their mentions are also low in the documentary sources consulted by the JEP.”

In terms of cases, it presents two different figures. The first indicates that “of the 1,480 facts reported by the accredited victims, 38 include explicit sexual violence, with and without carnal access”; while the second states that “in Case No. 01 there are 27 reports of rape and sexual violence without penetration (of 1,035 facts reported), particularly touching of a sexual nature against the hostages, mostly against women.”

Human rights organizations and victims’ advocates question the SJP’s failure to include a gender perspective in its investigations and the drafting of Auto 019, which could have helped victims overcome the barriers to reporting this type of crime. Furthermore, they question whether the court has not discriminated against the figures based on sex; thus, referring to a quantitative argument about the totality of victims to say that it is low or “isolated” is not very accurate.

Lawyer Flórez warns of a lack of thorough investigation in cases involving the FARC Secretariat. This chasm was reflected in the questions that were not included in the voluntary version questionnaires: “There were no questions related to the effects or differential conditions in captivity for women or people of diverse sexual orientation; nor for people who stated that they had been victims of sexual violence in captivity.”

“What we saw…”, he adds, “… Was that since these questions are not found in most of the agendas, at least not in the Secretariat’s agendas, there is a deficiency. What needs to be done? Include these questions in the agendas that the magistrates have prepared for the versions of the witnesses.”

However, Flórez points out that this recommendation has been taken into account, but in the versions of the FARC’s mid-level commanders, who will be charged in a subsequent SRVR order. “In the last hearings, these questions have been included in the agenda. As they are included by the Truth Recognition Room, the participants are more obliged to respond than when we do so as victims’ representatives. For example, Victoria Sandino acknowledged that there were forced abortions both within and among persons deprived of their liberty. Progress has been made, but she is not part of the Secretariat, but of the Central Joint Command.”

This situation highlights the shortcomings of not conducting a sexual violence investigation and not questioning the former FARC secretariat about these crimes. In this regard, human rights defenders warn of the need for a more thorough investigation in order to ensure victims’ rights and the restorative nature of this justice system.

Linda Cabrera, director of the Sisma Mujer corporation, goes further and asserts that the lack of a gender focus is not exclusive to Case 01, but a general shortcoming of the SJP: “There is a lack of a more determined effort to incorporate a gender perspective in the investigation of the facts of multiple human rights violations.”

Although he acknowledges that some guidelines are being implemented, he regrets that “when it comes to investigation methodology, the way information is gathered, statements are made, and the types of verifications frequently do not take this perspective into account and are not visible to those who are investigating and remain as an isolated, incidental, or irrelevant fact.”

Cabrera believes it is important for the SJP to include a gender perspective in its investigations because, in Case 01, this perspective can help to identify patterns of victimisation: “analysing the conditions that women faced in captivity, the socio-cultural structures, and the existing power relations, helps to understand the greater pressures that women faced and can achieve results in terms of restorative justice.”

The main criticism of this group of organisations of Auto 019 is that the facts of sexual and gender violence were not investigated in the same detail as the other crimes that occurred in captivity. “Sexual violence is presented as one of the ill-treatments, without going into its reiteration, the characteristics of this violence or its functionality within the pattern of deprivation of liberty, or it is mentioned as a matter that has not yet been investigated”, questioned the Alliance in an analysis published on the 10th of March last year.

According to this document, the SJP based its accreditation almost entirely on victim accounts as well as reports from civil society and the Prosecutor’s Office. Regarding the SRVR’s argument of “difficulty” in establishing a pattern of sexual violence in captivity, citing the possibility of under-reporting of cases and the under-reporting of cases “due to the stigma and silencing that surround sexual violence,” the Alliance considered that the Jurisdiction “doubts” that sexual violence against women is a habitual, widespread, systematic, and invisible practice in the context of the Colombian armed conflict, as determined by the Constitutional Court in its Auto 092 of 2008.

Furthermore, the group regrets that violence against the LGBTI population was made invisible in the first indictment of the FARC Secretariat. The words homosexual or LGBTI do not appear even once in the 322 pages of Auto 019.

“The SJP methodology did not delve into the discriminatory motives that led up to the abduction, nor into other conduct that could have been framed as this crime because it is socio-culturally acceptable and viewed as ‘opportunities to reform’ LGBT people, such as forced and isolated agricultural labour. This prejudicial targeting of victims adds a layer of gravity and affect to the abduction and was not taken into account at all in the Autopsy “, the statement’s signatories expressed with regret.

Finally, regarding the difference of 11 acts of sexual violence that the JEP accuses the FARC Secretariat of (in the determination of facts, it mentions 38 and in the classification of crimes against humanity, it mentions 27), the Five Keys Alliance questions how it made this calculation and warns that this discrepancy “demonstrates that the study of sexual violence and sexualised violence was not a priority in determining the facts.”

Isolated and without employers?

In its observations on Auto 019 and the responses given by former members of the Secretariat, the CCJ analysed 25 cases of sexual violence, which were presented to the SJP, in order to identify patterns and elements that demonstrate a possible systematisation of these crimes.

After a rigorous analysis, they established seven categories grouped “under specific behaviours in which relationships were established between deprivations of liberty and sexual violence, with the latter playing a strategic role.”

The first is about sexual violence against women who were forced to provide health services in captivity. Two nurses represented by the organisation are involved. Both cases occurred in the department of Guaviare.

On how this situation was portrayed in Auto 019, the CCJ document questions that “insufficient reference is made to the facts that, according to the data collected here, constituted a repeated practice of deprivation of liberty by the former FARC-EP guerrillas against medical or health personnel to force them to provide their services to that structure. Moreover, the sexual violence which, according to the information available, was directed exclusively against women who were forced to provide nursing services, is not recognised.”

The second category is about women who were kidnapped and then forcibly incorporated into the ranks of the now defunct FARC. In this section are the cases of two women who were recruited in the departments of Cundinamarca and Norte de Santander. Both became pregnant as a result of rape by guerrilla fighters and one of them was forced to have an abortion.

The third is two cases of sexual violence against members of the National Police in captivity.

The following are cases of people kidnapped for sexual slavery. Two women were kidnapped in Caquetá and raped for several months. In this respect, the document points out that this type of case is “part of situations in which women are deprived of their freedom under the constant surveillance of guerrillas for prolonged periods of time in order to subject them to multiple episodes of sexual violence.”

The fifth category is related to territorial control and disputes with other armed actors. These are cases in which women were abducted and raped “to interrogate them about the presence of armed groups in the area or as a form of punishment on suspicion of belonging to such groups.”

Sixth are the cases of women who were kidnapped and raped for extortion or as punishment for non-payment of ‘vaccines’.

And finally, there are the cases of women who were disappeared because of their gender, in which sexual violence is presumed to have occurred. The CCJ calls for these events to be investigated with a different perspective, since, historically, “these situations tend to be made invisible by the administration of justice, considering them to be minor or non-existent crimes.”

The categorisation carried out by this organisation shows that the rapes in captivity were not isolated and that behind them there were different motivations, logic and functionalities; also, that they occurred under the delegation of functions and that some of them involved guerrilla leaders of different ranks.

As a result, human rights organizations, victims, and their representatives have called for these events to be thoroughly investigated and differentiated in order to obtain a comprehensive truth that is not dependent on the stories of former FARC members or the sub-registers due to a lack of complaints.

In this regard, the CCJ notes in its investigation that, while Auto 019 “describes the damages and affectations resulting from kidnapping, it fails to demonstrate the differential analysis, in which specific sequelae related to the victimizing events of sexual violence during the serious deprivation of liberty can be recognized.”

It adds: “The description of physical, psychological, emotional and collective damage is substantial in order to understand the consequences of this experience on people’s lives, to make the event visible, to trace routes to achieve the truth regarding responsibilities and to continue with the trial.” This is fundamental for the restorative process that must be generated, as it is mainly based on the recognition of the damage caused by the participants, as established by the JEP in its Auto 027 of February of this year.

This organisation also questions the written acknowledgement of the facts and conduct presented by the members of the former FARC Secretariat on Auto 19, “in which, in some cases, they made a general acknowledgement of the damage caused by the sexual aggressions, but in no way do they take direct and individual responsibility for them, and in some cases, they even deny the relationship with the facts.”

In their response to Auto 019, the former FARC participants deny the ten crimes of sexual violence that it records, and in some cases, go so far as to question the veracity of the victims’ testimonies. Their written response is full of generalities, commonplaces and, also, they replied that “this fact does not fit in with our way of operating and could have been committed by other types of armed actors, due to the fact that our organisation functioned through organised structures that covered a specific area of operation.”

Diana Roa, a member of the CCJ’s psychosocial team that accompanies the victims, asserts that this type of response generates negative effects on the victims, as it puts them in a place of no place: “Once again the burden falls back on them and strong emotions such as rage, despair and the feeling that the facts will not be investigated or punished. That they are not being investigated in depth and the questioning falls on the victims.”

He concludes: “Silence generates a greater burden on people and can generate many types of psychosomatic damage. One of the demands that we as an organisation want to make is comprehensive differential care for those who have been victims of kidnapping and sexual violence. It is not the same as being kidnapped and having your body used as an object, so we believe that comprehensive care is needed.”

On March 28th, 29th and 30th, public hearings were scheduled for the seven former members of the Secretariat of the former FARC who are appearing before the SJP, in which the victims, their representatives and the organisations that have been monitoring Case 01 hoped to find clear and concrete answers to their observations and requirements.

Nonetheless, these spaces were postponed on two occasions in order to comply with “the restorative purposes requested by the victims” and to date they have not been held. They were rescheduled from the end of March to the 31st of May and June the 2nd and 7th; and today new dates were set for June 2nd, 6th and the 8th.

However, it seems that this scenario will not be the best for victims of sexual violence in captivity. As lawyer Flórez warns: “As a consequence of the deficit in the investigation, in the application of the gender focus and in the lack of depth with which the cases of sexual violence, both of men and women, have been dealt with in the voluntary version hearings of the Secretariat, this will be reflected in the recognition hearing, because the jurisdiction subsumes sexual violence within the three patterns established for kidnapping and does not give it differential treatment.”

He continues: “Both the facts and the victims’ voices are rendered invisible, and this is reflected in the people chosen to speak at the hearing. There are very few of them, and the conditions for them to participate adequately are not in place as a result of their differential treatment.”

It is hoped that the next hearings will result in a recognition of the facts and a greater contribution to the truth. Similarly, it is hoped that during the voluntary testimonies phase, which mid-level commanders of the now-defunct FARC must attend, the cases of sexual violence in captivity can be examined in greater depth and the shortcomings detected during the interventions of former Secretariat members on issues such as gaps in information and investigation methodologies that the victims and organizations have highlighted can be overcome.

* Name changed to preserve the identity of the victim; details of their cases were also omitted for this purpose.

Editor’s note: Attempts were made for three months to contact spokespersons for the SJP and FARC through their press offices to discuss this case, but no communication was possible.

This publication is made possible with the financial support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The views expressed herein reflect the views only of the organizations and individuals consulted and do not represent the official views of UNDP.