As a global organization, the Center for Reproductive Rights advances reproductive rights as human rights in countries around the world. Since 2019, the Center has been working with Colombia’s Truth Commission to support the documentation of reproductive violence during the country’s decades-long armed conflict.
In July, the Truth Commission issued its final report that included a chapter on gender-based and reproductive violence, and the experience of women, girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals in the conflict, incorporating information and expertise provided by the Center.
The Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition (“Truth Commission”) was established in 2016 to investigate human rights violations during the more than 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia
Catalina Martínez Coral, Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Center, has directed the Center’s efforts to engage with the Commission. In this conversation, Martínez talks about the significance of the Commission’s final report and its impact on reproductive rights in armed conflict.
Questions & Answers
Q. To start, what is the Truth Commission of Colombia and why was it created?
The Truth Commission of Colombia was created as part of a Peace Agreement between the government of Colombia and the former organization known as FARC-EP, a guerilla group engaged in an armed conflict with the State for more than six decades. The Truth Commission was tasked with identifying root causes of the internal conflict, recognizing the impacts of the conflict, addressing the rights of victims, and laying the groundwork for reconciliation and preventing future conflict.
This complete final report presented by the Commission is the result of an investigation that heard directly from more than 30,000 people, and also addresses in depth 730 cases and 1,195 reports of acts of violence during the armed conflict.
Q. What is reproductive violence and why was it important to include it in this report?
Reproductive violence includes practices that directly or indirectly undermine and violate reproductive freedom—which is the capacity of individuals to decide whether and when they want to have children and to access sexual and reproductive health services and information such as contraception, safe abortion, and gynecological and obstetric health services. Reproductive violence during the armed conflict in Colombia eliminated or reduced opportunities for women and girls to control their reproductive capacity and, therefore, the course of their lives.
Q. The commission’s final report includes a chapter on women and LGBTQI+ people. What does this chapter say specifically about reproductive violence?
The Truth Commission’s final report concluded that the armed conflict brought sexual and reproductive violence against women and girls in Colombia that violated their reproductive freedom and human rights. The acts of reproductive violence included forced abortions, forced pregnancies, and forced sterilization, among others.
In this section, the Commission also identifies that the implementation of a policy against illicit crops by the spraying of a harmful herbicide, glyphosate, caused damages to reproductive health such as miscarriages and other pregnancy complications. These acts of reproductive violence disproportionately affected girls and women in rural areas.
Q. What is the significance of these findings?
This is the first time that a commission of this kind, on the global level, has addressed reproductive violence in its final report as a category. Other commissions had already described gender-based violence in their reports, but the Colombian commission took a step forward by specifically detailing the modalities that affect reproductive autonomy.
Reproductive violence has been invisible for a long time. It is necessary to recognize and name it in order to make it visible and provide appropriate reparations to the victims.
The report’s recognition of reproductive violence that occurred demonstrates how States must be responsible for preventing, investigating, and redressing all forms of gender-based violence that affect reproductive autonomy during armed conflicts, including instituting reparations to address discrimination impacting girls and women.
We hope this report will create a precedent for the inclusion of a wider range of reproductive concerns in future truth commissions and other conflict reconciliation processes. And prompt the Colombian state to recognize its obligation to protect reproductive rights at all times, including during armed conflict.
Q. What role did the Center for Reproductive Rights play in shaping the report?
The Center signed an agreement with the Truth Commission in November 2019 to contribute to this process. As part of this effort, the Center and partners produced two reports examining how the conflict impacted women and girls.
The first report, entitled An Examination on Reproductive Violence Against Women and Girls in the Colombian Armed Conflict, concluded that armed actors, as well as some members of the security forces, perpetrated reproductive violence on girls and women. The violent practices included rape, forced sterilizations, forced maternity, forced abortions, and other violence that directly or indirectly affected reproductive autonomy.
The second report, Salud Reproductiva y Glifosato en el Contexto de Conflicto Armado (“Reproductive Health and Glyphosate in the Context of the Colombian Armed Conflict”), explained the negative impacts of glyphosate on the reproductive health of women living in rural areas.
Q. How is the glyphosate issue related to the Truth Commission’s work and reproductive rights?
For more than 20 years, the Colombian government utilized glyphosate, an herbicide, in aerial fumigation of coca fields to combat the country’s illegal cocaine trade in rural areas impacted by the conflict. Colombia suspended the use of glyphosate in 2015 after experts found that the substance had damaging effects on human health and the environment.
The report found that glyphosate is linked to infertility, miscarriages, and complications in pregnancy. The report is based on a scientific study conducted by the Universidad del Valle and supported by the Center.
The final report recommended an end to the use of glyphosate, which is one of the most important measures that the national government of Colombia should take in order to protect reproductive health and rights.
Q. What recommendations came out of the report?
The Commission made several recommendations to the Colombian State regarding reproductive violence and reproductive rights, including that the State must:
- Ensure compliance with the Constitutional Court Ruling of 2022 that decriminalized abortion up to 24 weeks.
- Recognize the occurrence of reproductive violence and its impacts and institute adequate reparations for victims and survivors.
- Improve access to sexual and reproductive rights in a comprehensive manner for people living in rural areas affected by the conflict, including access to information, contraceptive methods, abortion, and maternal health care.
- Identify the damage caused by glyphosate spraying to reproductive health, as well as to the integrity and lives of women in rural areas. This includes taking measures to provide reparations to victims and never resuming glyphosate spraying in the future as a state policy.
Q. What’s the next step? Will the Colombian government implement the recommendations?
The Truth Commission’s final report—and its inclusion of sexual and reproductive violence—creates an important precedent for the protection of reproductive rights in other historical memory processes.
The Commission is now in the process of communicating the report nationally and internationally. The new Colombian government, headed by Gustavo Petro, has already announced that it will incorporate all the Commission’s recommendations into its work plan for the next four years.