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Thursday, 20 July 2017 12:04

Fighting back against sexual violence: Jineth Bedoya Lima

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Fighting back against sexual violence: Jineth Bedoya Lima Foto: Archivo FLIP
In the years after she was abducted and brutally assaulted while reporting on violence at a maximum-security prison, award-winning journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima has fought tirelessly to bring the issue of sexual violence against women into the public consciousness.
  In an article for El Tiempo after the main suspect in her case was released and rearrested in the space of one week:   Jineth Bedoya Lima is an award-winning journalist and advocate for women's issues who was born in Colombia in 1974. She is well known for her reporting on Colombia's paramilitary groups, as well as for the abductions and threats she suffered in 2000 and 2003 in the course of her professional work. Since her abduction, torture and rape in 2000 her case has become synonymous with the impunity and corruption that is entrenched in the Colombian judicial system. 

I have dried my tears and now I am inviting all my fellow journalists to join me in giving a voice to all the other women who deserve for their cases to be heard.

On the day of her still-unsolved attack, 25 May 2000, Bedoya was a reporter for El Espectador working on a story about violence at a maximum-security prison involving state officials and paramilitary groups. While at the prison, under what would turn out to be false pretenses, to interview a paramilitary leader, she was abducted, tortured and raped by three paramilitaries. As they tortured her, Bedoya's attackers told her, "We are sending a message to the press in Colombia." The abduction took place in broad daylight and, it is suspected, with the complicity of local law enforcement. 

During the years since her abduction, Bedoya has tirelessly fought to bring the issue of sexual violence against women into the public consciousness. She has continued to report on Colombia's paramilitary conflict and history, only now armed bodyguards accompany her round-the-clock. 

In 2000 she received the International Press Freedom Award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and in 2001 she was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award by the International Women's Media Foundation. Bedoya was given the Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award in 2012. 

The Federal Attorney General's decision in September 2014 to officially recognize the abuses against her as crimes against humanity was welcomed, but, on 1 June 2015, the same office decided to drop the charges against one of her alleged attackers, Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco. He was re-arrested just a few days later. Local IFEX member in Colombia, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), whose lawyers represent Bedoya and filed a petition on her case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2011, tweeted that they hoped this would be the first step on the road to finally ending the 15 years of impunity Bedoya has endured. 

But this was just an illusion. Here we are in 2017 and justice still has not been served in Bedoya's case. In March, she had to go on the stand for the twelfth time to provide the details of her ordeal. In the 17 years during which the judiciary has ineffectively investigated and prosecuted these crimes several of the people involved, both perpetrators and witnesses, have died or eluded the authorities. 

Despite the passage of so much time, the legal processes in the case have advanced at half speed, owing to a negligent judicial system and a lack of political will on the part of the State when it comes to investigating and punishing those responsible for the crimes. An example of this is the fact that, to date, the only thing that has been achieved is reduced sentences, via plea bargains, for Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco and Mario Jaimes Mejía, who partially accepted the charges laid against them.