Monday, December 17, 2018
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Not their war
Susan Abad
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Sexual violence against women a major weapon in country´s armed conflict.

In Colombia´s armed conflict, sexual violence against women is a widely and habitually used weapon.

In the second Semana por la Memoria, or “Week for Remembering,” an event that seeks to present the truth about the conflict, including those whose loved ones had been caught in the crossfire and general public, researchers presented data about the El Salado massacre in February 2000.

Fifty-two men and eight women were killed in the massacre in El Salado, in northwestern Colombia by some 400 paramilitaries, commanded by leaders known as “Amaury,” “Tigre,” and “Cinco Siete.”

In its report “The El Salado Massacre: That Was Not Our War,” presented at the Sept. 13-25 conference in Cartagena, the Historic Memory Group of the National Reparation and Reconciliation Commission sought to “put a face on the victims´ unjust suffering” and for the national and international community to learn exactly what happened during the armed conflict,” the Group’s director, Gonzalo Sánchez, told Latinamerica Press.

The massacre “was part of the most notorious and bloodiest escalation of massive violence by paramilitaries in Colombia between 1999 and 2001,” Sánchez said. In the Montes de María area, where El Salado is located, “that cycle of violence materialized in 42 massacres, that left 354 people killed.”

Sexual violence has been a key weapon in this conflict, Oxfam International said.

“During the course of the 50 years of Colombia´s armed conflict, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war by all armed groups (state military forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups),” said Oxfam in a report presented Sept. 9. “The objective is to terrorize communities using women to achieve their military goals. But they are also used as a form of torture and punishment, as control over the population, as a means to impose stiff codes of conduct, as an instrument of revenge and pressure or as a tool to hurt and terrorize the enemy.”

Selective executions
The Historic Memory Group´s report said there were 2,505 massacres recorded between 1982-2007 and close to three-quarters of them had solely male victims. The others had male and female victims.

“The El Salado massacre...has a particular relevance from a gender perspective because of the high number of women victims compared with the majority of mixed gender violence of this kind that had one or two women killed,” said the report.

The El Salado massacre stands out because paramilitaries treated men and women differently.

“The majority of the men were arbitrarily selected, unlike the women who were publicly tortured and later killed, who were selected because they played an important role in community leadership,” said María Emma Wills, a political scientist who oversaw a chapter on the conflict from a gender perspective. “A second question is that a young woman accused of having a sexual relationship with the area´s guerrilla chief was not only killed, but her body was violated after she was killed. It was to humiliate the enemy.”

No gender solidarity
Wills said that a female paramilitary was who encouraged these acts, “showing that in the war, the armed actors took on identities that broke the possibilities of gender solidarity that there could have been under other circumstances.”

“My mother was 48. They were sadistic with her because she was a woman who for her killers represented the mothers who faced them and challenged them, protecting their children. They tortured her and killed her in the public plaza,” said Jorge Tapia, a campesino whose father was also killed.

“The killings and torture affected men and women, while sexual violations and humiliations were exclusively committed against women,” said the report. “The majority of women executed in the public plaza was similar to the men: they were beaten, tied up, punched, but the paramilitaries had a sexual emphasis with them ... their insults and shouts centering on the intimate lives they [said] they had with the ´enemy.´” 

Wills said that while there are some similarities in the violence against women in the conflict, the cases are not the same, even within different paramilitary units. “You can´t make generalizations,” she said.

In March, the Group for Memory will present a report on the conflict in the Caribbean region with only a gender perspective.
—Latinamerica Press.


Family members of El Salado paramilitary massacre still seek justice. (Photo: Susan Abad)
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