Sexual violence as a weapon of war: Colombian and Guatemalan survivors fight for justice

18 May 2015 by Louisa Reynolds, Guatemala City (Guatemala)

After decades of slow justice, Colombian and Guatemalan victims of sexual crimes committed during their respective countries’ armed conflicts are fighting to get their cases heard. In late April, Colombian human rights organizations called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to intervene and start prosecuting. Meanwhile, in Guatemala late last year, after decades of silence and neglect, victims of sexual violence achieved an important victory when a landmark sexual slavery trial opened.

A demonstration outside the Guatemalan embassy in Mexico against the overturned sentence of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt (Photo: Flickr/Amnistía Mexico)
Image caption: 
A demonstration outside the Guatemalan embassy in Mexico against the overturned sentence of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt (Photo: Flickr/Amnistía Mexico)

The legacy of sexual violence that has featured so prominently in their wars has left deep marks on both countries. Experts on gender-based crimes note it is no coincidence that Colombia and Guatemala are among the nations with the highest femicide rates in the world.

In the case of Guatemala, over three decades after the army launched the bloodiest phase of its counter-insurgency against revolutionary guerrilla groups, important steps have been taken towards securing justice for the victims.

This includes the first trial at a national court – ever and anywhere – of sexual slavery committed during an armed conflict. Plus, during the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala explicitly recognized that sexual violence was systematically used by the army as a means of asserting control over civilian populations.

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