After twenty years, hundreds of hearings and thousands of hours spent in filing reports, the case of journalist and human rights activist Jineth Bedoya Lima has arrived at a pivotal moment: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has decided to present the journalist’s case against the Colombian state to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court).
Bedoya was kidnapped, tortured and raped by paramilitaries while she was covering a story at a prison on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia. After years spent in litigation and seeking justice, just this year the Colombian government jailed three paramilitaries for their involvement in the actions against Bedoya. Much more, however, remains to be accomplished, including the need for the government itself to recognise its responsibilities and end the impunity that exists in this egregious case.
As such, the IACHR’s 17 July decision represents a historic step, and the Court’s ruling in the case will set a precedent for such pressing matters in the region as gender violence and the collusion between paramilitary groups and some State elements.
For this article, we consulted lawyers and experts in the region in order to explain why this case is so important and how the precedents that are set can be used in other cases.
According to the IACHR’s press release, “this case constitutes the first opportunity for the Court to rule on the State’s obligation to prevent when it comes to cases related to the right to freedom of expression of women journalists, and on the positive obligation to protect with a gender perspective to guarantee the safety of women when in situations of special risk, in one of the most dangerous regions in the world for the exercise of journalism.”
Absence of the State
The IACHR “concluded that the journalist faced a real and imminent risk of suffering an attack or aggression, considering she was the victim of constant threats and attacks against her life and personal integrity, which were reported to State authorities on several occasions.”
It went on to note that “although the State was aware of this risk, it did not adopt the measures that could reasonably have been adopted to prevent violations of her right to life, integrity, and personal liberty, as well as her right to freedom of expression.”
Surrounded by impunity
Upon hearing of the IACHR’s decision on 19 July, Bedoya held a press conference. She was joined by the organisations that have supported her case: the Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Expresión), an IFEX member organisation, and the Center for Justice and International Law (Centro por la Justicia y Derecho Internacional, CEJIL).
Bedoya stated, “For 19 years, I have dedicated myself to trying to move forward with my life, carrying out my profession as a journalist under conditions that violate all standards of freedom of expression, traveling with guards and in an armoured car. I have been surrounded by the most flagrant impunity and subjected to re-victimisation by the Colombian State, and I have been exposed to constant threats as a result of the activist role I took on in defence of female victims of gender violence.”
“I myself have been the investigator of the crime against me and the evidence and testimonies I have collected during these long years, as well as the situation of having to meet face to face with the perpetrators that was imposed on me by the National Attorney General’s Office, along with my perseverance in refusing to back down in the search for justice, have all resulted in three of the perpetrators being brought before the courts. This has absolutely been my own achievement, along with the lawyers who have accompanied me in the process. It has not been because of the Colombian State, which has not cared whatsoever about my or my mother’s suffering. The State did nothing to prevent the attack in 1999 that nearly ended my mother’s life and the kidnapping a year later that ended with me being basically killed while living,” she added.
Bedoya warned that “nothing, absolutely nothing” will stop her from denouncing what women journalists in Colombia have had to tolerate, “the worst burden there is to bear with the abuse and the freedom of expression violations in this country.”
“This step we have taken to bring the case before the Inter-American Court opens a window of hope for thousands of women who were raped during the armed conflict,” she stated.
Regional repercussions and a historic precedent
For CEJIL executive director Viviana Krsticevic this case “will have repercussions throughout the region.”
She told IFEX that she sees these repercussions “with respect to both guarantees for journalism work as well as the issues of sexual violence and impunity. It also draws attention to the threats that are among the most prevalent forms of attacks and take place with a high degree of impunity.”
“It is very opportune for the case to arrive at the Court at this time given the situation in Colombia for women journalists and the victims of violence in the region,” she added.
“Jineth Bedoya is an extraordinary journalist and a great human rights leader. Throughout the years she has maintained a firm and consistent position demanding that the State change the response it gives to female victims of violence. Her case before the Court will promote the establishment of greater guarantees for carrying out journalism in Colombia, breaking the insidious impunity that exists,” she stated.
FLIP’s executive director, Pedro Vaca, expressed a similar opinion: “This case represents an enormous opportunity for the setting of regional jurisprudence. It will set standards for states to improve their attention to and guarantees for rights.” Vaca said that Bedoya’s case will allow the Court to set precedents on several challenges that currently exist in the Americas, such as “attacks on freedom of expression and gender violence”, which hinder “journalists from being able to carry out their work without facing violence.”
Historic case and an end to impunity
Edison Lanza, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, noted that “Jineth Bedoya’s case is emblematic for the region for several reasons. Firstly, because of the victim’s own fight to survive a kidnapping and sexual assault in clear reprisal for the dissemination of information about the privileges enjoyed by unsanctioned groups like the paramilitaries, all in a context within which State protection failed. Also, because the crime was not duly investigated for years, and the victim had to investigate her own case.”
“In addition, the case brings together the patterns that affect many female journalists in the region: a high level of risk in conducting investigative journalism with respect to the possibility of suffering gender-based violence, and a lack of protective mechanisms and access to justice with a gender perspective. This is an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to rule on these issues,” he added.
Another expert in these types of cases, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation Program Director Angelita Bayens, also spoke with IFEX about the key relevance of this case.
In addition to highlighting the fact that this will be the first time the Court analyses the impact of sexual violence on women journalists, Bayens stressed that although there has been “partial justice” in Bedoya’s case in Colombia with the jailing of three paramilitaries, the fact that “there has been no responsibility taken at the State level when she was in a place that was in theory guarded by State agents is atrocious.”
This fact, which goes beyond Bedoya’s case, “is rather illustrative of a more generalised problem of collusion between the paramilitaries and State elements,” Bayens stated. “Bedoya has been exceptionally courageous and the arrival of her case at the Court represents a degree of vindication for all women victims of sexual violence. There is hope,” she added.
For lawyer and former IACHR freedom of expression special rapporteur, Catalina Botero, the case is historic for at least two reasons. Firstly, because it tackles the issue of violence against women journalists, as such demonstrating the differences that exist in the types of attacks to which they are subjected. And, secondly, because it “brings forward the issue of paramilitary violence against journalists.”
“The case illustrates from its beginning the complexities of paramilitary violence against the press which reach forward to today, with the ongoing existence of spaces for impunity. These two reasons, and the way in which the State deals with these groups will allow for the setting of precedents on these issues,” she stated.
To read more about this case and Jineth Bedoya’s campaign against impunity go to the following links: Jineth Bedoya Lima: A chronicle of justice delayed and Towards justice and peacebuilding: Country Profile of Colombia
Source: MEDIA FEED