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Jineth Bedoya Lima on Sexual Violence in Conflict

On September 6th, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice hosted Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist and UN Global Champion in the Fight against Sexual Violence in Conflict. In 2021, Bedoya won a landmark decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which ordered the state of Colombia to issue her an integral reparation after she suffered sexual violence while reporting on the country’s armed conflict in the early 2000s. 

In her talk, “lessons from a global champion for preventing conflict-related sexual violence and the tireless fight for gender equity and justice,” Bedoya described her ongoing journey for justice and reparations for not only herself, but the millions of women around the world who have experienced sexual violence. While her win in the inter-American sphere has been an important milestone in her fight for Colombia to recognize and adequately address sexual violence, the state has still failed to award her these reparations. She described that while she is grateful to hold the sentencing of her abusers in her hand, she waited 23 years to do so. She questioned how many more years she will have to wait to receive the reparations she deserves. 

Bedoya stressed that in our efforts to provide victims with the justice they deserve, we must also be mindful of how this process can retraumatize them. She offered the example that in offering women the chance to share their stories, asking them to go far from their homes to do so, potentially going on an airplane for the first time in the process, women are not made to feel safer, but instead the opposite. Bedoya herself has experienced feeling deeply unsafe in experiences as simple as taking a cab alone in Boston to come speak at the event. She often asks herself if she will ever feel truly safe.

As a journalist, Bedoya has chosen to wield her craft and her voice to uplift the fight against sexual violence as it occurs around the world, often without the recognition it deserves. She recognizes that while many other women have been silenced, her position has allowed her to push against the forces that seek to keep her and countless other women in the shadows. 

In the case of Colombia’s armed conflict, it was reported that there were 36,000 cases of women who experienced sexual violence, yet in her own investigation Bedoya found that that number was closer to 2 million. She asked the audience to reflect on the magnitude of harm caused by this conflict.  These statistics demonstrate that sexual violence is not merely a consequence of conflict, but a weapon actively used to create greater harm. 

Only when we acknowledge the central role of sexual violence in armed conflicts can we begin to address it in full. Beyond Colombia, conflicts in El Salvador, Iran, Ukraine, Nicaragua, and others, have failed to report on and draw attention to the magnitude of this issue. Bedoya addressed those in the room stating that each of them has the ability to create change, to investigate, and to fight for victims of sexual violence. She argued that, by sitting in front of that room, she is proof that this is possible.

Bedoya’s talk moderator Katharine Young, a professor of law and Associate Dean for faculty and global programs at BC Law School, began with a question on where lawyers in this fight need to listen the most. Bedoya stressed the importance of lawyers in the process of justice as those she interacted with in her case made her feel as though what happened was her fault. They questioned her investigation and failed to fully investigate on their own, a central aspect of their responsibility in these cases. 

A question from the audience asked Bedoya to consider how to keep the memory of these atrocities alive so that the younger generations are aware of the conflicts their communities have faced. She acknowledged the challenge of this as the older generations do not want to recount the harm they experienced and the younger generations do not want to listen. However, the importance of historical memory is central to the struggle for justice as this process takes many years and oftentimes decades. To close, Bedoya highlighted the importance of remembering history so that we know where we came from.

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