For over 50 years, Colombia has suffered an internal armed conflict between the Government and multiple armed groups. The violence has affected over 8.5 million people, including over 260,000 people killed, 60,000 forcibly disappeared, 21,000 sexual violence survivors and 7 million displaced.
Recently, however, what had once seemed eternally enduring began to change. In 2011, the Colombian Government passed comprehensive victims reparation and land restitution law to compensate those affected by violence. The compensation could come in the form of financial reparations, psychosocial and physical rehabilitation, truth disclosure, symbolic reparation, land restitution and guarantees of non-repetition.
Then last year, following four years of negotiations, the Government and the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), reached a peace accord. In June 2017, the FARC completed its disarmament and ceased to exist as an armed group.
To implement the peace accord, and advance what Harvard University has called the most ambitious victims’ reparation policy of its kind, Colombia faces numerous challenges. Paramount among these challenges is guaranteeing the inclusion of and reparation to groups that have suffered decades of targeted violence. One of these groups is the LGBTI community.
“I am a person who wakes up every day to fight for human rights. I have the same rights as everyone else, as well as the same responsibilities.”
Darla Cristina is a transgender woman who was born in Antioquia. When she was fourteen, she was forcibly recruited by the FARC. The guerilla group abused her. After escaping the guerrilla’s ranks, Darla lived in various parts of the country and eventually was able to complete her transition. She now lives in Pasto, the capital of the state of Nariño. About 18 per cent of Pasto's 600,000 strong population are victims of the conflict.
"I’ve engaged in many civic groups, including victims’ participation round tables as the LGBTI community representative. "I first joined the round table as a trans-girl,nothing more. I wasn’t an activist; I wasn’t a person who knew a lot about the topic. But I wanted to learn and eventually I ended up becoming the coordinator of the municipal round table," said Darla.
Her passion for activism later led to her election as a member of the departmental and national victims’ round tables.
Darla stressed that while she has faced discrimination and stigma because of her sexual orientation and gender identify, she is just as equal as everyone else. This drives her to wake up every day to fight for human rights.
“I have the same rights as everyone else, as well as the same responsibilities. My greatest challenge as a human rights defender, as well as my greatest happiness as a human rights defender, has been becoming the only trans-woman to coordinate one of the 1,100 victims’ round tables that exist around the country and becoming a member of the national round table.”
Darla said her biggest challenge has been talking about forgiveness and reconciliation not just because of what happened to her, but because of what happened to her mother. When Darla was forcibly recruited, her mother was a victim of sexual violence carried against her by paramilitaries and the army in retaliation for her child “joining” a guerrilla group.
Quote from a LGBTI conflict victim interviewed by the National Center for Historical Memory in the memory report “Aniquilar la diferencia”.
Age, ethnicity, class and gender made specific groups of people targets during the armed conflict. This was especially the case for the lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. Their rights unrecognized, LGBTI people were targeted by both legal and illegal armed actors. Sexual orientation and gender identity were impetuses for violence. LGBTI people were denied the possibility to openly love their partners and express themselves because they feared murder.
Research by Colombia’s Historical Memory Center found that under the civil war’s violence, LGBTI people became the focus of ideological violence,torture, sexual violence, threats, physical aggression, and murder. Violence committed by paramilitary groups, guerrillas, the armed forces, police and others has forced LGBTI people to hide themselves and keep their identities invisible. In public discourse, armed actors, and society itself, have often justified violence against the LGBTI community and perpetrated archaic ideas of patriarchy and social control. In the face of this violence, LGBTI community members came together to resist and to survive.
Zunga is a young transgender woman who is a spokesperson for the LGBTI community in Caquetá, a region of Colombia on the border with Ecuador that was very seriously affected by the armed conflict. She is currently in university and is recognized for her activism on behalf of the LGBTI community. She is a strong believer in the importance of inclusive public policies.
With the FARC demobilizing, she noted that, “we are afraid of new armed actors in the territory like criminal and paramilitary groups that are still present here. This should also worry the Government and the international community. We need support to protect local human rights leaders. We are here on the ground putting our bodies on the line; we don’t just want to be another murder statistic in the country.”
Zunga said that she personally seeks, “to emancipate herself, to deconstruct herself, and to contribute to the creation of understandings of gender.”
Struggling against patriarchy on the ground hasn’t been easy.
"One of our greatest strengthens in Caquetá is that we can participate. We can impact and create policies that benefit the LGBTI community to guarantee our access to education, health, and housing and make sure that gender based violence ends."
72 per cent of LGBTI conflict victims in Colombia have been displaced by the violence. Only about 2,400 of the over 8 million registered victims of the conflict openly identify as LGBTI. Under reporting is rampant, often due to a lack of trust in Government institutions and fear of being publicly “outed”.
Given the increased impact of the armed conflict on Colombia’s LGBTI community, it is crucial that the Government’s reparation policies include tailored actions with gender perspectives. This means tackling under reporting, building confidence in Government institutions, training public officials, building institutional capacity,addressing societal invisibility, and developing specific attention and reparation routes for LGBTI conflict victims.
Since 2012,IOM Colombia’s Victims Institutional Strengthening Program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been working to support the Colombian Government and civil society organizations, giving them the tools and building capacity to provide inclusive assistance, attention, and reparation to LGBTI victims of the conflict and guarantee LGBTI people’s active participation in the post-conflict process.
The programme has carried out on-the-ground training with local and national Government officials on LGBTI rights and the importance of diversity. It designed and disseminated tools to mainstream gender perspectives (including an online course and a gender rights toolkit), as well as tailored attention and reparation guidelines for LGBTI conflict victims, an institutional model to mainstream gender in government reparation policies, and special reparation routes for LGBTI sexual violence survivors. The programme also provided technical assistance to local Government to foster the inclusion of LGBTI issues in public policies at the local level.
To guarantee LGBTI victims’ right to truth disclosure about what happened in the conflict and symbolic reparation for violence, IOM also partnered with local civil society organizations and the Center for Historical Memory to research, draft,and disseminate a historical memory report on the conflict’s impact on the LGBTI community. The full report is available in Spanish here: https://goo.gl/Ju6PTv.
The programme also supported three local historical memory initiatives with LGBTI conflict victims in Medellín, Bogotá, and El Carmen de Bolívar, six social mobilizations and training with 27 regional organizations, and campaigns, alliances and commemorations with the LGBTI community.
This year the programme is working in 15 municipalities that host “transitional zones for normalization,” where members of the FARC are disarming and demobilizing under the peace accord. These municipalities are historically known for high levels of violence in the armed conflict, affecting the LGBTI community. To date, 95 public servants and 185 LGBTI leaders have been trained on LGBTI rights and the importance of including this community in peace building processes.
Working with civil society organizations, conflict victims, and the Colombian Government at the national and local level, IOM continues supporting the rights of people in the LGBTI community affected by the conflict.
The photos and videos were produced under the Victims Institutional Strengthening Program, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by IOM. More information on the programme can be found on IOM Colombia’s website.