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Colombia: Domestic violence laws are not enough: Rights groups

Publication Date: 
January 27, 2012

Colombian domestic violence laws will not work as long as attackers go unpunished, said women's groups Friday.

Responding to a raft of new government measures aimed at preventing violence against women, NGOs told Colombia Reports that the real issue was not being tackled.

While important legislation had been passed in Colombia and across Latin America, following decades of campaigning by activists, there remained "almost total impunity for perpetrators of violence against women -- across the board," said Amanda Klasing, Americas researcher for Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Division.

Klasing said, "This impunity creates a distrust of the judicial system, resulting in more than 80% of victims of gender-based violence in Colombia reluctant to report crimes committed against them."

A 2010 study by Colombia's national Legal Medicine Institute found that a woman was killed every four days by her partner, while a UN report the same year found that half of Colombian men admitting abusing their wives or girlfriends.

Decrees announced by the Colombian government Wednesday laid out policies for public officials and medical professionals to follow to make sure Ley 1257 -- a historic piece of 2008 legislation dealing with the prevention and punishment of violence and discrimination against women -- was properly implemented.

Measures included making sure men who posed a danger to their partners were removed from their homes, teaching children about domestic violence, obliging medical professionals to report suspected cases, and sanctions for workplace discrimination against women.

Diana Mollina, project coordinator at CERFAMI, a Medellin-based domestic violence organization, said no amount of legislation could be effective until there was a transformation of social attitudes towards women.

Mollina said, "For the legislation to be effectively implemented we have to socially delegitimize gender-based violence, [ensure] it is not justified under any circumstances."

She called for "actions [to] transform thoughts, beliefs and practises, ones which question established power dynamics and gender roles which cause discrimination, and which promote genuine equality between men and women."

To truly tackle violence against women, said Klasing, there had to be a concerted effort to investigate and effectively prosecute it.

"Ending violence against women is simply not a priority to top government officials," she said. "New policies must be accompanied by a commitment to hold officials at every level of government accountable for implementing them."

According to Mollina, "The decrees give weight to the state's intention to eradicate [the violence] that occurs on a daily basis in our country -- but they're not enough."

The government had to back up its policies with financial and human resources to strengthen the Prosecutor General, the Legal Medicine department, the National Police, and judges, among others, she said.

Meanwhile, Colombian medical professionals voiced opposition to the proposal they be obliged to report suspected cases of domestic violence, reported Radio Caracol. "We cannot turn into a police authority," said Rodrigo Cordoba, president of the Colombian Association of Scientific Societies, adding that the proposal would completely violate the confidentiality principle enshrined in medical ethics.


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