Blog von July Cassiani-Hernandéz

An dieser Stelle bloggt July Cassiani-Hernandéz über die menschenrechtliche Lage und aktuelle politische bzw. gesellschaftliche Entwicklung in Kolumbien. Zwischendurch gibt sie auch Einblicke in ihre Arbeit zur Friedensbildung, Konflikttransformation und zum Schutz vor Menschenrechtsverletzungen, allen voran vor sexueller Ausbeutung. Der Blog ist ausschließlich englischsprachig.

Kolumbien – July Cassiani-Hernandéz:

Blog entry of march 8th , 2022 - International Women's Day

This March 8th Latin American feminist organizations are joining together to promote respect, defense and guarantee of women's rights. From walks to raise funds for small and medium social organizations that promote the defense of women's rights, to forums and academic activities, are some of the activities planned to bring visibility to this day. Follow here some of the activities.

Feminist Day: Institutions do not take care of us on March 7th. Event where they will work embroidery in the form of vulva to break the taboo around the vulva.

Walk in different neighborhoods in honor of March 8th. Event called "Women's Bodies are NOT Negotiated" in Cartagena, Colombia. Women's collectives unite to demand living wages, minimum living wage, food security and Feminist Justice NOW.

Feminist Strike for 8M, protests and walks in Spain, Chile, Argentina and different places in Colombia. It is aimed at all the public to make visible, among other issues, feminicide, sexist violence and forced disappearance.

Call for a national strike in Mexico on March 9th #UnDIASINNOSOTRAS called in Mexico to generate more visibility of the importance of women in society.

They Change the World, is a virtual exhibition organized in CCE Tegucigalpa to make visible the importance of women and LGTBI population. Within the framework of 8M in Latin America.

The mobilizations and events, which are planned to be massive despite restrictions by Covid-19 and its variants, take place in the context of an "alarming setback of fundamental freedoms in Latin America [that] forces us today to defend democratic spaces that we used to take for granted". As expressed by Tamara Taraciuk Bronere, acting Americas' director of Human Rights Watch.

Nevertheless, there have been some advances in terms of the demands of feminist collectives for women's rights. In December 2020, Argentina approved a bill to legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and in 2021 four states in Mexico decriminalized abortion in the first 12 weeks. Ecuador's Constitutional Court and Mexico's Supreme Court took a step to relax abortion restrictions, which could spur further progress. In Colombia, abortion was decriminalized in February 2022, and the window for terminating a pregnancy has been expanded to 24 weeks.

The Mexican Senate approved a historic reform to the General Law on Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence to make shelters and Women's Justice Centers accessible to women with disabilities. The Chilean Congress approved same-sex marriage. Argentina became the first country in Latin America to recognize non-binary gender identities in official identity documents.

However, the general conditions for women are minimal, as a result, the March 8th rallies and actions are a crucial form of visibility in the fight for women's rights.

Blog entry of September 20th , 2021 - 15-year-old girl missing: a case of child trafficking in Colombia

Alexandrith is a 15-year-old girl who has been missing for three months in Cartagena, Colombia. Her disappearance has attracted media attention across the country. At the same time, it has shed light on an issue that human rights and women's rights organizations have long advocated for, but which receives little attention in the public discourse: it is about human trafficking and the disappearance of babies, children and adolescents as part of organ and child sex trafficking.

Alexandrith lived in a community near Cartagena, Bayunca, a rural area where poverty, lack of education and crime are part of everyday life. In addition to Bayunca, there are other villages such as Arroyo de Piedra and Arroyo de las Canoas. Although these villages are only 20 minutes away from Cartagena, the people living there do not have access to basic services such as running water, functioning sewage systems or clean drinking water. 

Alexadrith's story is like that of many young women: they disappear one day without a trace and never reappear. The 15-year-old's family organized demonstrations to attract media attention and filed charges with the support of women's advocates in the city. Aside from the demonstrations, however, in which some local officials participated, little is known about the local government's efforts to find this young woman. If nothing is done, she will soon be one of the more than 100,000 missing persons, including 9964 children, by 2020, according to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED).

An estimated 35,000 children live in sexually exploitative conditions, according to UNICEFs most recent report in 2018. According to the United Nations, few efforts are made to find missing persons in Colombia, despite the signing of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2007.

These grim facts are corroborated by testimonies of children and young people who lived in Bogotá's red-light district. Their stories are testimony to state failure: often they were abused as young as 3 months old. Many disappeared after being sold by their relatives, or fled in adolescence to escape sexualized violence and abuse within their own community or even family. They were then captured by traffickers who sexually abused them and forced them to sell their bodies. Of their earnings, hardly anything is left for themselves: on average, they had to give away as much of it as Colombian employees with minimum wages normally earn in two days.

According to the testimonies of seven teenagers interviewed, their traffickers and rapists (often family members) taught them to use drugs to endure the daily abuse.

In addition to these testimonies, there are many children living in shelters whose origins are completely unknown. They are not registered, nor is the whereabouts of their parents known. Many of these children have been part of a child trafficking ring and have been victims of sexual exploitation since they were babies.

In countries like Colombia, it is important to review the measures taken to find the missing, beyond the bureaucratic procedures that already exist. Hope remains for the safe return home of Alexandrith, who stands as a local symbol of state negligence and indolence. Her whereabouts and current situation remain unknown, but her disappearance raises questions that the Colombian government must urgently address.

(We have permission from Alexandrith's family to report on her disappearance)

Blog entry of July 30 th , 2021 - The situation of children's rights in Colombia: A brief look at human trafficking and sexual abuse

According to Unicef's 2018 report on the situation of girls, boys and adolescents in Colombia, an average of 35.000 children are trafficked per year. Manuel Bedoya, a professor at Javeriana University, was able to prove in an investigative study that between January 2013 and July 2018, 7.534 children were affected by sexual exploitation - an average of 112 minors per month.

Colombia, like many other Latin American countries, has struggled with poverty and social injustice since the 19th century. This situation leads to an increased propensity for violence, and criminal networks operate in many of the country's cities. Begging, prostitution and sexual exploitation of children are widespread. These living conditions provide a breeding ground for rights violations. However, strengthening children's rights is not a high priority for the Colombian government and is low on the political agenda. Various World Bank reports also indicate that corruption is a major challenge in parts of Latin America.

These underlying conditions pave the way for child traffickers. According to Bedoya (2018), child sexual exploitation begins as early as 3 months of age in some cases. Most incidents occur in Bogota, Cali, Cartagena, and Medellin.

The Institute of Family Welfare Colombia (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, ICBF) is the body mandated by the Colombian government to defend, guarantee and protect the rights of children and adolescents. This, unfortunately, has itself been involved in various scandals involving the deaths of children in foster care, allegations of abuse, and trafficking of children by foster parents. For example, it became known that children were placed in adoptive families where child abuse had occurred in the past and/or where links to "child pornography" networks could be proven. This has been confirmed by recognized organizations, but high-ranking officials have so far successfully denied these serious allegations.

These are difficult baseline conditions for protecting, defending, and guaranteeing the rights of children. Colombia provides legal penalties for those found to have committed crimes related to child abuse and trafficking. However, judicial prosecution of these cases is often slow, extremely delayed, and its mechanisms are inadequate. Many state institutions dismiss the allegations, shelve them, or protracted trials ensue without significant results. The conviction rate for child sexual abuse cases in Colombia is less than 5%.

Some international organizations such as UNICEF, but also national organizations (Talita Cum, Ángeles Somos Observatorio de Infancia y Adolescencia, RENACER, among others) and other more local organizations provide support where possible. They provide legal representation and psychosocial support to families and victims, but do not have sufficient capacity to provide large-scale support services. Despite a dark field of hundreds or even thousands of cases of child trafficking and sexualized violence against children, the bright field is very small - which means that most cases are not reported, or not followed up by the authorities for various reasons.

Reactions from the public are increasing pressure on the government to finally address the obvious problem. Civil society organizations make an important contribution to combating injustice by offering support, documenting and exposing such cases, and with their prevention work.

Blog entry of June 30 th , 2021 - The second month of social and civil protest in Colombia: At the gates of Change

Colombia has been on strike for two months, and civil organizations and streets full of citizens in resistance have taken over the political and social scene of the country. Close to the presidential and congressional elections in 2022 the protests in the streets have become a catalyst for new social, economic, and political discussions. In this pre-election season, the agenda of the cities is not dominated by the visits of the candidates, as it usually happened in election seasons. On the contrary, the streets and the country are dominated by deeper discussions. Issues such as:

  • The support of the current congressmen in supporting laws that went against the interests of citizens.
  • The inefficiency and misgovernment of the president.
  • The need to propose more active mechanisms for citizen participation. And,
  • The need to reform the electoral criteria of voters.

All situations are presented amid a pandemic with an average of 650 deaths per day according to Macro Expansion Data. And in an acute social crisis that has generated a reflective panorama that benefits the country. This is it, without ignoring the consequent effects.

In this scope, there are still alarming statistics about the country's socio-economic crises within the context of the national strike. According to the NGO Temblores, between April 20th and June 26th there have been 4,687 acts of police violence:

1. 4 homicides whose presumed aggressor is a member of the security forces of the State
2. Another 29 homicides in the process of verification
3. 228 victims of firearms shootings
4. 1617 victims of physical violence
5. 2005 acts of violence
6. 784 interventions in the framework of peaceful protests.

While at least four bodies have appeared floating in the river and body parts of people who had supposedly been reported missing in the framework of the strike. These stats reflect what has been described as the country's most violent protest. They also bear witness to a government that has been chastised for forced disappearances, false positives, and repression of human rights activists over the last two decades.

Faced with such a catastrophic human rights scenario, and with little chance of reaching an agreement between the government and the demonstrators, the crisis persists, with no end in sight. One of the reasons that prevent progress in the talks is the lack of legitimacy of the self-proclaimed National Strike Committee. The demonstrators do not recognize them as the authority or spokespersons for the movements that support the strike. Another reason is the government's position of a frontal fight against the demonstrators and its messages through government officials and members of the government benches. They have declared in various statements that they do not accept the validity of the right to demonstrate, much less the demands made during the strike.

Thus, two months after the beginning of the strike, and in the context of the upcoming elections, several requests have been made to the European Union and the German Federal Government. Organizations subscribed to Let's Defend Colombia and United for Peace - Germany has requested to send an International Oversight Commission for the upcoming elections and the observation of Human Rights. This request is made in the context of the few guarantees that the elections will be transparent and with reliable results and the known violation of human rights in Colombia. Of course, as a social leader, I join this request. They have declared in various statements that they do not accept the validity of the right to demonstrate, much less the demands made during the strike.

In anticipation of what appears to be the most possible option for resolving Colombia's social crisis: the start of a new democratic epoch marked by the renewal of political leadership. All the above allows us to affirm that Colombia is still a country in which the defense of human rights is still unstable, risky, and dangerous. From Berlin, I join the desire of many Colombians who wish to see our country in peace, social prosperity, and with a guarantee that we all live in a context of compliance with rights.

Blog entry of May 10 th , 2021 – violent reaction to non-violent protest

Colombia is living moments of terror, blood and death after starting a national strike on April 28th called by the main student movements, unions and civil society in general against the tax reform proposed by President Ivan Duque, since then the country has lived in a chaotic and systematic way the most serious episodes of violence in the last decade.

Peacefully the marchers demonstrated in the main streets and avenues demanding the total withdrawal of the tax reform, the resignation of the Minister of Finance, later they added the withdrawal of a new health reform, which makes the Government in one of the biggest health crisis that has faced the entire world; among other requests seeking social justice, and guarantee of human rights.

After the massive mobilizations and in view of the union to the strike of sectors such as truck drivers, universities and other sectors, the President communicated that he would modify the reform and the Minister of Finance left the Cabinet. It is presumed that Alberto Carrasquilla's new task is the CAF. This, despite his questionable economic management of the country's coffers and the corruption scandals in the past government for the water bonds to create aqueducts in the municipalities, which were used for his personal finances and to benefit rich landowners and businessmen.

In the face of peaceful demonstrations in the best dictatorial style, President Iván Duque gave the order to repress the demonstrators, militarize the cities and use weapons that are used in wars against unarmed demonstrators. So far in the strike, Human Right International reports as of May 08th, 2021 at 7:00 PM (CTE), that 42.450 calls were made to report some kind of violation against human rights,1203 people have been arbitrarily detained, 980 disappeared, 43 homicides and 1330 wounded. The rivers of blood do not stop flowing, images of dead people in the streets, avenues completely covered with blood and different videos on social networks show the terror that Colombia is living. The official Government communications have preferred to deny the terror that the country is living, making statements in which they affirm that it is an infiltration of the Venezuelan Government to destabilize the country, instead of recognizing that decades of inequality, social and economic injustice in one of the countries that pay more taxes in Latin America and one of the most corrupt globally.

From different parts of the world different expressions of support have been present. However, in the face of the cruelty and the growing increase of actions to delegitimize the strike and repress the population, isolate their communications (as in the case of Cali and Siloe, whose internet services were suspended to prevent them from communicating the acts of violence by the police and ESMAD), more voices of support and specific actions by international organizations and governments are needed to protect a country that has not stopped bleeding for more than 50 years.

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