Colombian Army Officer Convicted In Landmark Rape, Murder Case
A Colombian army officer has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder and rape of a girl, a conviction hailed by rights groups as a rare victory in the fight to get justice for sexual crimes committed during the country’s decades-old conflict.
By Anastasia Moloney
On Aug. 27, a civilian court handed Sub-Lieutenant Raul Munoz the lengthy prison sentence for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Jenni Torres, as well as the murder of her two younger brothers aged nine and six.
The tortured bodies of the children were discovered nearly two years ago, close to an army base in the municipality of Tame in Colombia’s northeastern Arauca province.
Sixty members of Colombia’s armed forces were subsequently investigated in a high-profile case that has shocked the country.
“The conviction of Raul Munoz is a testament to the perseverance of the victims’ families and their lawyers. It is rare that perpetrators of human rights abuses are ever brought to justice in Colombia, and more so if they are members of the security forces and if the crime is one of sexual violence,” Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher for Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Despite repeated complaints by the local community that soldiers were regularly sexually abusing and raping women and girls in the area, the army tried to blame local residents, criminal gangs and rebels for the rape and killings, rights group Amnesty International said.
The case has renewed calls for Colombia’s attorney general’s office to push for more convictions in cases involving sexual violence.
Only a fraction of the thousands of cases of sexual violence carried out by armed groups are currently being investigated by state prosecutors, rights groups say.
“Although the government and the prosecuting authorities have implemented measures to combat impunity in such cases, these have been ineffectual. More must be done to ensure that the right of survivors to truth, justice and reparation is fully respected,” said Pollack.
For nearly five decades, Colombia has been mired in fighting between government troops, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary militias. All of these armed groups have been accused of sexual violence against women and girls.
WIDESPREAD SEXUAL VIOLENCE
According to Colombia’s constitutional court, sexual violence carried out by armed groups is widespread.
In a landmark ruling in 2008, the court concluded that “sexual violence against women is a habitual, extensive, systematic and invisible practice in the Colombian armed conflict”.
Armed groups use sexual violence, including rape, against women to instil fear among communities, as a weapon of war, and as a way of imposing social and military control in an area, rights groups say.
Women and girls from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are at greater risk of sexual violence, as are women and girls forcibly driven from their homes by fighting.
In July, several Colombian lawmakers drafted a new law which, if passed, would define sexual crimes carried out as part of the conflict as crimes against humanity, placing tougher sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence.