UN Security Council Briefing on Colombia by Marcela Sánchez

This statement was made by Ms. Marcela Sánchez, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Colombia Diversa, at the United Nations Security Council Meeting on Colombia on 9 April.

Greetings Excellencies.

Thank you for the opportunity to brief you today on the situation in Colombia.

I am Marcela Sánchez, Executive Director of Colombia Diversa. I come from a country scarred by war yet hopeful for peace. A country where the organization that I lead has been working with the feminist movement for twenty years to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in Colombia. Thanks to our collective efforts, what was once unthinkable is now possible: peace initiatives that recognize all Colombians, slow but meaningful social change towards a world without discrimination, and a legal framework rooted in the fundamental principle of equality.

Today, my statement will focus on the impact that the conflict in Colombia had on LGBTQ people, the opportunities offered by the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda to address these impacts, and finally, what remains to be done in Colombia to ensure an inclusive peace.

LGBTQ people in Colombia have long been targeted for who they are, much as women have, due to entrenched patriarchal norms and social and legal discrimination, which have contributed to extreme violence against both women and queer people during the armed conflict.[1] LGBTQ people, particularly Afro-Colombian, transgender, and adolescent Colombians, were actively targeted, disappeared, and killed by armed actors.[2]

As of March 2024, the Victims’ Unit registry reported 6,000 crimes committed against LGBTQ people during the armed conflict.[3] According to the Truth Commission’s Final Report, this violence included forced displacement, exile, sexual violence and killings.[4] We still don’t have concrete and precise data on how many LGBTQ victims there were or what crimes they suffered in the Colombian armed conflict. This lack of information demonstrates that our lives are not considered relevant for effective peacebuilding initiatives in the country.[5]

Social stigma, lack of documentation, and fear of reprisals mean that we may never know the full extent of the violations that occurred against us. Many LGBTQ persons who survived armed violence also found themselves without legal recourse due to a system that does not recognize the violence as a crime — for example, when someone’s hair was forcibly cut off or when a person was forced to wear certain clothes. But the overall context makes clear that these crimes were part of a pattern of gender persecution, an international crime that must be adjudicated.[6]

As you know, Colombia remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders, with LGBTQ defenders and peacebuilders facing particular risks.[7] In 2023, we recorded another 8 LGBTQ human rights defenders killed, and just this February, Aldinebin Ramos, co-founder of the Association LGBTQ+ Chaparral Diversa, a local peacebuilder known for his peace efforts in his town, was gunned down in his home by unknown assailants.[8] In close to half of such cases, evidence suggests that these human rights defenders were targeted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and we have documented how LGBTQ defenders are being killed, forcibly displaced, injured, and subjected to sexual violence.

Excellencies, every attack against an LGBTQ person, every human rights defender killed, and every murder left uninvestigated sends the message that our lives are dispensable. I hope that today, this Council can send a powerful signal to the LGBTQ population in Colombia that their lives matter and that you will stand by your commitment to protect their rights.

Targeting human rights defenders and other LGBTQ people hinders their ability to participate in peace efforts and democratic debate. That’s why, Excellencies, I ask you: if we are brought violently into war, can we be left out of efforts to build peace? If we are to act on the foundational principles of the WPS agenda, the answer is “no”. For a lasting peace, LGBTQ people must be involved in every stage of peacebuilding: negotiations, ceasefires, demobilization efforts, transitional justice processes, and the design of reparations measures. This Council can recommend this practice in all peace processes around the world.

Therefore, as the Colombian government prepares to finalize its first National Action Plan on Resolution 1325, it is critical that the rights of LBT women are integrated and that a diverse range of LGBTQ organizations are further consulted in its implementation.[9]

To break the harmful patterns of the past, there must also be accountability for gender-based violence during armed conflict. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace recently opened Macro Case 11, which will investigate “gender-based violence, sexual violence, reproductive violence, and other crimes based on prejudice against sexual orientation or gender identity”.[10] This judicial process, which aims to address the root causes of gender-based violence against women and LGBTQ people in armed conflict, brings us one step closer to ending impunity and can be a beacon of hope for LGBTQ survivors of gender persecution around the world.[11]

Finally, I offer the Security Council several recommendations on how to support efforts to include LGBTQ people in Colombia’s peacebuilding process:

  • Demand the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women and LGBTQ people in the implementation of the peace agreement and negotiations with other armed actors in Colombia.
  • Call for an end to all intimidation, attacks, and reprisals against LGBTQ persons, human rights defenders, peacebuilders, and civil society leaders, and for all perpetrators to be held accountable. Urge full implementation of the Comprehensive Programme of Safeguards for Women Leaders and Human Rights Defenders and integration of a robust gender perspective in the work of the National Protection Unit. Additionally, call on the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to regularly report on the situation of all human rights defenders, including LGBTQ defenders, to the Security Council.
  • Call on the UN Verification Mission to prioritize support for the implementation of those provisions of the peace agreement that are outstanding, notably gender provisions and the Ethnic Chapters, as well as the centralization of victims in judicial processes.
  • Urge the government of Colombia to include the prohibition of conflict-related sexual violence and violence against women and LGBTQ people in all future ceasefire agreements and in negotiations with armed groups. Continue supporting the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, especially in relation to the decision to open Macro Case 11 on conflict-related sexual and reproductive violence, including violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Ensure the participation of women’s rights and LGBTQ organizations in all aspects of decision-making in this process.
  • Urge the government of Colombia to regularly consult with diverse women and LGBTQ civil society to develop and implement its National Action Plan on WPS. Simply naming them does not mean participation.

Excellencies, think of Colombia as a laboratory for implementing the principles of equality, non-discrimination, and inclusivity that are so central to the WPS agenda. Success or failure here could set an important precedent for the protection of LGBTQ rights elsewhere in the world. We hope this Council seizes the opportunity to lead by example. Thank you.


Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

[1] Colombia Diversa: “Who is Going to Tell Us? Report for the Truth Commission on the Experiences of LGBT People in the Colombian Armed Conflict,” September 2020, https://colombiadiversa.org/c-diversa/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Who-is-going-to-tell-us.pdf.

[2] Id.

Truth Commission, “Final Report: Violence and Harm Against the Ethnic Peoples of Colombia,” July 2022, https://www.comisiondelaverdad.co/sites/default/files/descargables/2022-08/Informe%20final%20Resistir%20no%20es%20aguantar%20Etnico%20%281%29.pdf.

[3] Victims Unit, “Bulletin 12: Data for Peace,” February 2024, https://datospaz.unidadvictimas.gov.co/archivos/datosPaz/boletines/Boletin_Datos_para_la_Paz_Marzo.pdf.

[4] Truth Commission, “Final Report: Women and LGBTIQ+ Peoples’ Experiences in the Armed Conflict,” August 2022, https://www.comisiondelaverdad.co/mi-cuerpo-es-la-verdad.

[5] Colombia Diversa, “The Reality of Discrimination: Human Rights Situation of LGBTIQ+ People in Colombia,” December 2023, https://colombiadiversa.org/c-diversa/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Resumen-ejecutivo-Informe-Colombia-Diversa.pdf.

[6] Colombia Diversa, “Orders of Prejudice: Systematic Crimes Committed Against LGBT People in the Colombian Armed Conflict,” July 2020, https://colombiadiversa.org/colombiadiversa2016/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/english-version-Orders-Of-Prejudice.pdf.

[7] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2022, 4 April 2023, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2022.

OHCHR, Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, 14 February 2024, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/hrbodies/hrcouncil/sessions-regular/session55/advance-versions/A_HRC_55_23_English_unofficial_translation.pdf.

IACHR, “2023 Ends with High Rates of Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in the Americas,” 5 March 2024, https://www.oas.org/en/IACHR/jsForm/?File=/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2024/045.asp.

[8] Colombia Diversa, “The Reality of Discrimination: Human Rights Situation of LGBTIQ+ People in Colombia,” December 2023, https://colombiadiversa.org/c-diversa/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Resumen-ejecutivo-Informe-Colombia-Diversa.pdf.

Justice for Colombia, “Colombia Human Rights Update February 2024,” 1 March 2024, https://justiceforcolombia.org/news/colombia-human-rights-update-february-2024/.

[9] Republic of Colombia, “Colombia Diversa delivered 20 recommendations to the National Government for the creation of the National Action Plan for Resolution 1325,” 25 July 2023, https://www.cancilleria.gov.co/newsroom/news/colombia-diversa-entrego-20-recomendaciones-gobierno-nacional-creacion-plan-accion.

Colombia Diversa, “We are very close to achieving an Action Plan for the Women, Peace and Security Agenda,” https://colombiadiversa.org/blogs/estamos-muy-cerca-de-lograr-un-plan-de-accion-de-la-agenda-de-mujeres-paz-y-seguridad/.

[10] Republic of Colombia, “The JEP opens Macro Case 11, which investigates gender-based violence, including sexual and reproductive violence, and crimes committed due to prejudice”, 27 September 2023, https://www.jep.gov.co/Sala-de-Prensa/Paginas/-la-jep-abre-macrocaso-11-que-investiga-la-violencia-basada-en-genero-incluyendo-violencia-sexual-y-reproductiva-y-crimenes.aspx.

[11] Colombia Diversa, “Cinco Claves insists that the JEP open the national case of sexual violence, reproductive violence, and violence motivated by the sexuality of the victims for women, girls, and LGBT people,” https://colombiadiversa.org/blogs/cinco-claves-insiste-a-la-jep-abrir-el-caso-nacional-de-violencia-sexual-violencia-reproductiva-y-violencia-motivada-en-la-sexualidad-de-las-victimas-para-mujeres-ninas-y-personas-lgbt/.