This week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights released a landmark decision for Ana Teresa Yarce et al. The decision condemns the Colombian government for lack of protection of five women human rights defenders and community leaders who were denounced, displaced, whose homes were destroyed, who were detained, and even killed. The women leaders and their families are represented by the Interdisciplinary Group for the Human Right, known by its acronym in Spanish GIDH.

This is the first time that the Inter-American Court made a decision condemning Colombia for human rights violations committed against women human rights defenders specifically, and the first international condemnation for the events that occurred in Medellin´s comuna 13, a densely populated western district known as Medellin’s most violent, during a military operations in 2002.

The government did not provide adequate protection, according to the Court’s decision, given the five women were specifically targeted in violent attacks  because they were women community leaders.

Maria Victoria Fallon, attorney and director GIDH, emphasizes that: “The decision shows that many of these violent acts, such as the forced displacement, have unique and disproportionate impact on women. This decision,” Fallon continues, “is the first international conviction as a result of a murder of a woman human rights leader using the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, also known as the Convention of Belem Do Para.”

The Court showed that the government failed in its obligation of guaranteeing life and integrity of the community leader Ana Teresa Yarce and that it violated, the rights to freedom, integrity and free association of the other female leaders: Socorro Mosquera, Mery Naranjo, Luz Dary Ospina and Miriam Rua. The government could not guarantee the necessary means for the women to participate in social and community organization and they could not participate in their activities as human rights defenders freely.

Patricia Fuenmayor, member of GIDH says, “the Court’s decisions is during a historic time in Colombia, when we are dreaming about building peace. It recognizes the negative impact the Colombian conflict had for women human rights defenders. It gives the government the opportunity to fully compensate these women in a path towards reconciliation”.

Case background

Operation Orion was ordered by President Uribe two months after he came to power in 2002. Over a thousand soldiers and policemen attacked comuna 13, leaving the inhabitants caught in something that resembled a war between government forces, left-wing rebels and paramilitaries.

Over 200 community members were left injured, and the official death count reached six, including Ana Teresa Yarce. Community members and former paramilitaries insist that the operation was carried out in conjunction with the government, the military, the Medellin police department and the AUC paramilitary group.