From Forced Sterilization to Forced Psychiatry: Violations of the Human Rights of Women with Disabilities and Transgender Persons in Colombia

Since Colombia’s last review under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) in 2007, the country has seemingly undergone many positive human rights changes including, the ratification international human rights instruments and domestic norms to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities -including those who have been subjected to acid attacks and women with HIV-, the jurisprudential recognition and recognition in public policy y and local programs of the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex persons, the beginning of the process of peace with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the approval of the public policy for the protection of victims of the armed conflict and the restitution of land. In spite of that there are a lot of tasks left for fulfill the guarantee of human rights to the beneficiaries of CEDAW and the elimination gender- based discrimination in the country. In this report, fourteen local and international organizations document some continuous human rights violations that are gender-based or that have a differentiated impact on a specific group because of the gender of its members.

This report is intended to supplement the Government of Colombia’s report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“the Committee”) and it offers specific recommendations so that the Colombian State can adequately comply with the requirements demanded by the Convention with regard to the following issues:

Firstly, we highlight the fact that Colombia’s current legal framework on legal capacity allows for the sterilization of women with disabilities without their consent, in the case of women who are placed under plenary guardianship and therefore are deemed absolutely incapable. Widespread and persistent discrimination against women and girls with disabilities results in the systematic denial of their right to sexual education, to experience their sexuality, to have sexual relationships, and to start families on equal footing than women without disabilities. Surgical sterilization of women and girls is irreversible, and when forced, it is considered an act of gender-based violence, a form of social control, and a violation of the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Secondly, sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict continues despite ongoing peace negotiations and the current policies on the protection of victims. Women and girls in Colombia remain vulnerable to sexual violence and continue their search for justice for these crimes in a context of high impunity. In its Recommendations to Colombia in 2007, the CEDAW Committee recognizes the grave situation of women in Colombia and urged the Colombian Government “to address the root causes of violence against women and to enhance victims’ access to justice and to protection programmes.” Additionally, it requested Colombia to put effective monitoring mechanisms in place and to evaluate regularly the repercussions of all of its strategies and measures adopted for the full application of the Convention. In spite of the Committee’s requests, sexual violence continues to be pervasive and the victims who seek to materialize their rights to justice, truth, reparation and access to rehabilitation services of rehabilitation continue face significant barriers.

Thirdly, transgender persons in Colombia face barriers in their implementation of their basic human rights, including their right to live free from discrimination and violence, and their right to access to health care and employment. These limitations are expressed in many aspects of daily life of this population, like the option to change their name and sex in identity documents, obtaining the military passbook, access to health care (including hormone administration procedures and body changes), education and employment.

Fourthly, it is documented that pregnant women with HIV do not receive the prenatal health care necessary to guarantee the full implementation of their right to health care and in a significant number of cases sterilization is performed during delivery of the child, generating a violation of sexual and reproductive rights.

Finally, in the past years an alarming number of acid attack cases to the face and neck areas were documented as manifestations of gender-based violence, being women the main victims and known men then main perpetrators. In these cases, the numbers of convictions are minimal and the victims face multiple barriers accessing the procedures necessary for their recovery and their social inclusion.

In light of these facts this report highlights five areas of major concern: (1) the negative impact of the current legal framework on legal capacity of women with disabilities, including their sexual and reproductive rights, (2) the persistence of sexual violence and gender-based discrimination in the context of the armed conflict, (3) the discrimination and violence against transgender persons, (4) the lack of access to adequate health care of pregnant women with HIV, (5) the lack of access to health services and the lack of access to justice of women assaulted with chemical agents.

The information contained in this report was prepared by local Colombian organizations and academic institutions as follows: Asdown Colombia , the City University of New York School of Law (CUNY)’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (IWHR), Entre Tránsitos, Fundación Procrear, Fundamental Colombia, Grupo de Apoyo Transgenerista (GAT) , International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), MADRE, Profamilia, Rostros sin Ácido, Sinergias: Alianzas Estratégicas para la Salud y el Desarrollo Social, Taller de Vida, and the University of Los Andes through the Alberto Lleras Camargo School of Government (YPAR Group) and the School of Law’s Action Program for Equality and Social Inclusion (PAIIS). In addition, information was gathered through interviews, field visits, and documentation of personal testimonies conducted in Colombia. Where indicated the victims’ names have been modified to protect their integrity.

We hope that the findings in this report will be useful to the Committee and will serve as a catalyst for future advocacy efforts in Colombia.

Download the report in English, en Español.