Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Afro-Colombian Women Continue to Face Unspeakable Violence during Armed Conflict

About 30,000 protesters turned out in the predominantly Afro-descendant city of Buenaventura in March to protest the ongoing violence perpetrated by armed groups. Photo Credit: Palenque el Congal via PCN.

CALI, COLOMBIASince 2013, Charo Mina Rojas has helped register 42 cases of sexual violence and internal displacement perpetrated against Afro-Colombian women in two cities alone. As of today, however, Ms. Mina Rojas has not received word from the Colombian authorities as to whether the cases are even being investigated.

With investigations stalled or never undertaken, the perpetrators of sexual violencewho are in many cases members of paramilitary groupsare free to continue persecuting their victims, often threatening to kill them if the go to the authorities. In the predominantly black city of Tumaco, many survivors of sexual violence have refused to talk about their experiences for fear that they will be killed for doing so.

Many of these women are vocal community activists whom paramilitary groups consider guerrillas and therefore their enemies. To protect them, Ms. Mina Rojas and the Global Rights’ partner organization she represents, the Kuagro Ri Changaina Ri PCN, spirit the women out of their homes and into safe houses in other cities. One woman, a community activist from Buenaventura, had to be relocated 80 miles from her home to stay with relatives in Cali. Despite the woman being relocated, paramilitaries hunted her down and shot her in the leg one day while she was walking in the street. The Kuagro, which is a women’s collective that is part of a 100-member Afro-Colombian coalition called Black Communities Processes, had registered the case with the authorities in Buenaventura and Cali, but it never received adequate attention.

Although it is clear Afro-Colombian women have suffered more than any other group since the outbreak of the Colombian conflict in 1964, the Colombian government is not doing enough to address the ongoing and culturally-specific issues these women face, Ms. Mina Rojas said. A major stumbling block is the fact that the Colombian government does not collect racially-specific data when documenting cases of sexual violence and displacement. As a result, the government does not know how and by what degree the armed conflict has affected the Afro-Colombian community. This failure to effectively identify and deal with Afro-specific issues is a violation of the Colombian constitution, which in 1991 recognized Afro-Colombians as a unique collective entitled to special rights.

Ms. Mina Rojas said that outside political pressure must be applied to the Colombian government for any substantial change to take place. To that end, Global Rights, the Kuagro and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) organized a five-day visit by IACHR president, Tracy Robinson, to speak directly with dozens of Afro-Colombian women activists from Buenaventura, Tumaco, Cali and the Caribbean and North Cauca regions. 

The visit, which lasted from Sept. 24 to Oct. 3 and also included meetings with LGBTI activists, provided the IACHR, in particular its Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, a unique opportunity to gather information for its upcoming regional report on the rights of women in the region that has a particular focus on Afro-descendants. It also gave the IACHR and its president a chance to see whether progress had been made in addressing the situation of Afro-Colombian women following official recommendations the IACHR made to Colombia in March 2013 in light of testimonies given to the Commission during a thematic hearing in Washington requested by Global Rights and Kuagro. 
Charo Mina Rojas

“The Rapporteur was greatly alarmed by information received confirming the pernicious effect of the armed conflict on the integrity, lives, and territories of Afro-descendant women,” The IACHR said in an official statement released Oct. 10. “The Rapporteur reminds the State [i.e. Colombia] of its obligation to take into account the multiple forms of discrimination consistently faced by afro-descendant women on the basis of their sex, race and condition of poverty, and to facilitate their participation in the development of legislation and interventions relevant to their human rights.”

The meetings Global Rights and the Kuagro arranged also had a strong impact on the leaders of the Afro-descendant women’s groups, many of whom feel ignored by the Colombian government and the international community.

“It was actually very important for them because they have very little opportunity to mobilize all the way to Washington to present their cases and their situation in front of the president of the Inter-American Commision for Human Rights,” Ms. Mina Rojas said. “For them to have the opportunity to meet with her was crucial…it made them feel like they were being listened to.”

As of 2013, there were 4.7 million internally-displaced persons in Colombia due to the ongoing armed conflict, according to the most recent government figures. Afro-Colombians make up about 26 percent of Colombia’s population and represent at least 30 percent of the total number of internally-displaced persons, according to a report published by Global Rights and AFRODES in 2010. Half of the Afro-Colombians who have been displaced are women.

Afro-Colombians are particularly vulernable to displacement because they live in predominantly black communities situated in resource-rich and militarily-strategic areas that armed groups have forcefully seized during the conflict. Afro-Colombians are also more impacted by violence and displacement because they are typically poorer than the rest of the country and thus cannot easily relocate to safer parts of the country.

In addition to internal displacement, Afro-Colombian women—and Colombian women in general—continue to suffer from gender-based violence due to the ongoing conflict. A March 2014 report on conflict-related sexual violence released by the United Nations Security Council noted the severity of the issue in Colombia. The report also notes that women and girls of Afro-Colombian descent have been “disproportiantely affected.”

“The sexual exploitation of women and girls in areas under the influence of illegal armed groups… remains a grave concern,” the report says. “In this context, incidents indicate that sexual violence is perpetrated as a strategy to assert territorial control, to intimidate women leaders and human rights defenders and to intimidate the civilian population as a method of social control. Some survivors report having been displaced and raped repeatedly. Survivors reporting incidents of sexual violence to the authorities and service providers also reported receiving subsequent threats against them and their families, some of which resulted in forced displacement. The continuing presence of survivors and perpetrators in the same community represents an ongoing security risk, creates acute psychological trauma owing to prolonged intimidation and hinders reporting and access to justice and services.”

Another major issue is the impunity with which perpetrators of sexual violence operate. According to a report released in November 2013, only one in five cases of sexual violence are reported and of the cases reported, only two percent end in sentencing for the perpetrator.

Ms. Mina Rojas, however, is confident that if the IACHR continues to apply political pressure on the Colombian government, the government will be compelled to engage with the Afro-Colombian leaders to adequately address the myriad issues facing Afro-Colombian women. Ms. Mina Rojas is also hopeful that because of how impacted Ms. Robinson was by her visit with Afro-Colombian women activists, the IACHR will grant a thematic hearing in March 2015 to publically discuss the issue in Washington with Colombian officials and civil society.

The visit of the IACHR to Colombia also garnered media attention. It was covered in Colombia’s largest news publication, El Tiempo, and in El Pais, the leading paper in the Pacific Region, where most Afro-Colombians live.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Global Rights to Release New Report on Protecting Resource-rich communities in Nigeria

A 14-year-old girl works in a stone quarry in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Exposed to dust and the accompanying health risks, she earns less than $5 per day in lieu of attending school.

ABUJA, NIGERIAGlobal Rights will host a briefing next Monday in Abuja, Nigeria, with civil society, government officials and corporations to reveal the findings of several field visits to resource-rich communities across Nigeria made in the past year. During the briefing, Global Rights will make public a new report entitled Protecting Host Community Rights within the Institutional, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Solid Mineral Mining

Four years ago when the lead poisoning health emergency first broke out in Zamfara State, Nigeria, Global Rights conducted a needs assessment on the protection of mining communities in the country. Since that initial assessment, we have gone evaluated other states in Nigeria. Our recently concluded appraisal of these mining host communities sought to identify the human rights and governance issues facing the mining industry in Nigeria.  

We are hopeful that this briefing inform the public and strengthen our campaign for effective resource governance and accountability in the solid mineral sector which respects the rights of host communities.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Recognizing Brave Afghan Women on International Day of the Girl

According to an Afghan population survey in 2010, one in five women ages 20-49 were first married at 15.

In 2009, Global Rights established our first legal aid center in Kabul to provide underserviced populations—particularly women—with free legal counsel for family law-related issues.

Since then, we have added three more centers in the provinces of Nangarhar, Herat, and Balkh, providing legal aid to nearly 7,000 Afghans—more than 70 percent of whom have been women.
Many of the women who seek legal advice come to our centers desperate to escape abusive marriages. Too many of these women were forced into arranged marriages at the age of 15, stripping them of the chance to pursue an education and a career. The 2010 Afghanistan Mortality Survey recorded that almost one out of every five women aged 20-49 were first married at age 15.

Global Rights partners with Afghan organizations that run the legal aid centers. On this International Day of the Girl, we wanted to share a couple stories of brave, Afghan women who since adolescence have been trapped in abusive marriages but summoned the courage to find a way out.

Sonita, 19, Herat

Sonita was just 11 years old when her father married her off against her will to a man in a remote village. After Sonita moved in with her husband, her in-laws mistreated her and her husband didn’t want for excuses to beat her. Her new family prevented her from continuing her education and even from seeing her parents. Speaking about how she felt at the time of her marriage, Sonita, now 19, said: “It was not my wish to get married. I wanted to be an educated girl with a bright future. Nobody paid attention to my wishes. Although I was totally against this marriage, I was just 11 and not old enough to raise my voice.”

Sonita kept quiet about her lamentable fate so as not to create hostility between her family and her husband’s family. After three years, however, her father learned how much she was suffering and decided to take her home to her family. She had been living with her family for five years when she heard about Global Rights’ legal aid center in Herat from a neighbor who had participated in a legal awareness program. Still married to her abusive husband, Sonita wanted a divorce so she could move forward with her life. A defense lawyer at the legal aid center explained to Sonita about the process involved to separate from her husband. Afterwards, the lawyer presented her case to the courts, and she was granted divorce from her husband. Sonita has begun a new life and has returned to pursue her education.

Monesa, Mazar-e-Sharif

At 13, Monesa became the property of a man when her father lost her in a bet. The man who won the bet married Monesa and proceeded to beat and taunt her, always reminding her that she was simply a commodity that he had won. She and her abusive husband had a child, whom the husband also beat.

Monesa found out about Global Rights’ legal aid center in Balkh province from her neighbor. A defense lawyer there gave her detailed information about the procedure involved in divorcing her husband and prepared her petition for the primary court in the Sholgara district. In addition, the lawyer prepared a defense statement and responded to official letters of the court. The case was eventually resolved in Monesa’s favor, and she was granted a divorce because of the harm her husband was causing her.

Monesa, Mazar-e-Sharif Monesa returned to live with her father, with whom the defense lawyer reviewed the contents of the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law. Her father vowed never to force her daughter to marry someone without her consent.