On Monday, March 15, the public hearing in the case of Jineth Bedoya Lima began at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. At issue before the court is the State’s responsibility for threats against Jineth Bedoya, as well as her kidnapping, torture and rape in May 2000. During the hearing, the National Agency for Legal Defense of Colombia, represented by Camilo Gómez, alleged that the majority of the Court’s judges are not impartial in the case, and announced that it will present a request for recusal against five of the six judges due to an alleged lack of procedural guarantees. The State decided to leave the hearing, and the State’s witness did not appear to testify before the Court.
For the Colombian State, the questions and comments made by the judges, including Judge Elizabeth Odio Benito, President of the Court, revealed bias in favor of Jineth Bedoya. As her legal representatives, we, CEJIL and FLIP, state unequivocally that the comments from the judges were dignifying and appropriate, as they had just heard the courageous testimony from a survivor of grave human rights violations; the comments did not in any way prejudge the State’s responsibility in the case.
In fact, it is the job and the obligation of judges to question witnesses about facts germane to the case—this includes context, which helps the judges to understand the scope of violations and the measures that could constitute reparation for the victim. In her testimony, Jineth Bedoya answered questions related to the object of her declaration, as pre-approved by the Court. This included: her work as a journalist and the journalistic investigations she carried out in and prior to 2000, the risks she faced as a result, her requests for protection and the State response to this situation. Likewise, she narrated the events of May 25, 2000 and the impact that these events have had on her life ever since.
In her testimony, Jineth stated that National Police officers suggested that she interview paramilitary leaders at La Modelo prison in order to mitigate the threats against her as a result of her investigative journalism. She stated that this interview was a “trap” that led to her kidnapping, torture, and rape. She also described how the perpetrators stated to her that their acts were a “lesson” or “punishment” for her journalism. She described multiple pieces of evidence of the responsibility of State agents for her kidnapping, which have been ignored in the prosecutor’s investigation; in contrast, she described how she was revictimized in the course of the investigation, being called twelve times to make statements describing the torture and rape to which she was subjected. The State’s representative recognized this revictimization at the public hearing.
As organizations that represent Jineth Bedoya, we denounce the State’s attitude in this case, which demonstrates the State’s indifference to the victims of sexual violence during Colombia’s armed conflict and denies dignified spaces for access to justice. Colombia’s decision to leave the public hearing is unprecedented and gives cause for concern about its commitment to justice for human rights violations and its eventual compliance with the decision of the Court.
Moreover, we denounce this action as part of a strategy to delegitimize the Inter-American Court and create new obstacles in this process, which continues to punish Jineth Bedoya for making her voice heard. This is a new attempt to silence her.
As legal representatives, we call on Colombia to reappear at the scheduled hearing, in compliance with its international human rights obligations and in accordance with the Court’s order. Appearance at the hearing will contribute to the dignity and redress that this international legal process can provide, regardless of the eventual content of the decision.