Women human rights defenders continue to be one the sectors most affected by threats and aggression. PBI interviewed five women who work in the Magdalena Medio region regarding threats they have received.
Judith Maldonado: As of March 2013, we have had 36 security incidents since 2005. These security incidents refer to written, email, and telephone threats, as well as the illegal interception of communication.
Lilia Peña: Personally I have also been the victim of illegal surveillance several times, as well as the victim of threats made by defamatory propaganda, emails, and text messages, most of which call me a guerrilla, which threaten to kill me because I am a guerrilla.
Judith: We have been stigmatized and targeted with accusations, even by mining companies.
Lilia: The most recent threat said that they were going to throw a grenade at my house, that they were going to throw a grenade at me, and that they knew that I had been staying here for two days.
María Ravelo: They blocked my daughters’ way. They gave them propaganda that said that I had to get out of here, that I had to shut my mouth.
Luz Almansa: Both my family and I have frequently been the victims of illegal surveillance. They always tell me: “If we can’t get to you, we’ll hit you where it hurts you the most.”
Judith: And we’ve been hard pressed to get the Colombian government to investigate any of the reports, these 36 security incidents. A mere 12 cases are currently under investigation and we can now say that there is total impunity, that is, absolutely no progress has been made.
In 2012 the reported aggressions against female human rights defenders increased from 54 to 92. In February 2013 alone, at least eight women human rights defenders and their affiliated organizations received multiple threats in the city of Barrancabermeja.
Lilia: In 2012, at the end of 2012, and up to this point in 2013, every single threat made has been against women: women victims, women human rights defenders, women defenders of victim’s rights, women who are fighting for restitution of our rights and who are spearheading the resistance and the fight so that the events that have transpired in our city, that have marred the history of our city, of the region, and of our own lives, do not go unpunished.
Ana Teresa Rueda: We women have become more and more politically active. We have not only become more active in political movements and institutional concerns, but we have also increased our political aims; we have successfully established and included women in very important roles in local and regional politics.
María: Women have a special gift, that is, we are more sensitive to others’ suffering and we are the ones that are going to fight, get involved, and speak out.
Judith: Yes, the obvious intention [of the threats] is to intimidate us, frighten us, and make it clear to us that we are definitely in the enemy’s sights.
Women experience and bear these threats differently than men do.
Ana Teresa: One way in which we women take on responsibility for these threats is when they threaten our families, it’s like they are threatening your very core and you feel responsible, not just for the safety of your family but, well, if something were to happen to your family, we would have to think very deeply about what we have gained as women. So, I think we women experience these threats, and think about the subject of protection, differently than men do.
María: And now they are starting to target our children because the defamatory propaganda that, the threats we receive say, “Where are your children?” and “We are going to get your children.”
Luz: And this illegal surveillance and these threats have been so severe that my family is terrified. I mean, they ask me, “Mom, what are you thinking? Do you want them to kill us? Why don’t you quit that job?”
Ana Teresa: When they threaten your family, they threaten your emotions, they threaten your very core, they threaten your mind, they threaten all aspects of your life. It’s then that you start to cut down on your human rights activism.
Judith: And it causes so much uncertainty and fear, and not everyone can withstand it and allow their lives and their families to be so vulnerable.
Ana Teresa: Most of us who advocate for the victims or that have declared ourselves to be victims are women. And we are concerned, obviously, that now they are going to kill us or force us to leave, the women of Magdalena Medio, after we have gained a foothold, after we have managed to empower ourselves, after we have managed to organize ourselves.
Women Appeal to the Government to Guarantee Their Protection
Luz: The protection unit provides me a safety plan. Because of these severe threats, they give me one vehicle and two bodyguards. But it’s not like I feel that safe because during the day I’m with the bodyguards, but at night I am completely unprotected and that’s what the most recent propaganda flier said: “Those bodyguard pigs aren’t with you 24 hours a day.” So they are looking for my weak spot, or for the moment in which I am alone, to drag me out of the house, to take me to “see the airplanes,” as they like to say.
María: We need the government to guarantee our protection. An armored vehicle, two bodyguards, that’s not going to protect us because as soon as the bodyguards leave at night the same thing is going to happen again. At 2:15 in the morning they were on the roof of my house, trying to break through the tiles and enter and what I could do for myself and my children?
What we want is a political guarantee by which the Colombian government recognizes our work and publically states, “They are human rights defenders and they are doing their job, an officially recognized job. They are neither terrorists nor criminals.”
Lilia: I think that being a victim, that having lost my husband, that having had to abruptly change my way of life so suddenly, is what drew me to the cause. This is what compelled me to work on the behalf of my fellow victims.
Luz: The ASFADDES has joined the fight to locate family members. And this is what we fight for: for truth and for justice, to not forget and to obtain redress, specifically a comprehensive redress.
Lilia: Well, I fell in love with this job and I think I love my job more every day because I think that if we, the victims, do not step forward and do not advocate for the victims, who will be our voice? Who will be our advocates?