Skip to content Skip to navigation

Restoring Dignity to Victims of Sexual Violence in Colombia

diana acosta navas with colombian journalist and group
Apr 22 2022
Diana Aguilera

Diana Acosta-Navas, a postdoctoral fellow at the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, works at the intersection of applied ethics, political philosophy, and public policy. As she describes it, “My work stresses the importance of recognizing victims’ testimony in the wake of massive human rights violations. And how institutions sponsored by the state can play a role in enabling victims to give testimony of human rights violations, thereby contributing to restore their standing as full members of a political community.”

Because of her academic expertise, Acosta-Navas was recently asked to participate in a public event and workshop at Boston University featuring Colombian journalist and human rights activist Jineth Bedoya Lima. These events were prompted by and commemorated a historic ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In this ruling, the Court found the Colombian state responsible for the 2000 abduction, rape, and torture of Bedoya Lima in retaliation for her journalistic work.

The Quest for Justice

“October 18, 2021 goes down in history as the day when a fight, which began due to an individual crime, led to the vindication of the rights of thousands of women victims of sexual violence and of women journalists who give up part of their lives in their trade,” Bedoya Lima wrote on her Twitter account.

On May 25, 2000, Bedoya Lima was abducted outside a Bogotá prison where she was set to interview a member of a paramilitary group as part of an investigation into the death of 26 inmates and alleged arms trafficking within the prison. She was beaten, raped, and tortured. Since that day she has dedicated part of her life to investigating her own crime in search of justice.

In the October 2021 ruling, the Inter-American Court declared Colombia responsible for the violation of various rights, including the right to personal integrity, personal liberty, honor and dignity, and freedom of thought and expression of Bedoya Lima. The court also tried and found the state guilty for the failure to investigate the threats that the journalist received before and after the events of May 2000.

As part of reparation measures, the court ordered the Colombian government to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible and protect female journalists through investing in public programs to support them, among other measures.

Furthermore, the court determined that Colombia must create the Investigative Center No Es Hora De Callar (It is not time to be silent), a center in memory of all women victims of sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict and of investigative journalism with specific recognition of the work of women journalists.

The Significance of Transitional Justice Institutions

Acosta-Navas was honored to join an interdisciplinary group of scholars to bring awareness to Bedoya Lima and advise her on the new Center’s vision. During her presentation at the public event, she celebrated the journalists’ work and recognized the importance of the ruling.

Bedoya Lima “has been working on the No Es Hora De Callar campaign for over a decade,” Acosta-Navas says. “But now the state will be involved in providing this platform for victims of sexual violence to be recognized, for their suffering to be recognized, and for the state’s failure to address their situation to be recognized.”

From her own research, Acosta-Navas knows the significance of transitional justice institutions, such as the Investigative Center No Es Hora De Callar. As she sees it, transitional justice institutions can restore the basic layer of a victim’s civil dignity. By creating these institutions, it recognizes the victims as “right bearers,” thereby setting the state and the community accountable to the victims.

The historic ruling also elevates the importance of the protection of free speech and freedom of expression. In her own work, Acosta-Navas analyzes how the moral principles that inspire the right to free speech may be best upheld in the current public forum and the role of digital platforms in creating conditions for a healthy public debate.

Honoring Bedoya Lima’s tireless quest for justice, Acosta-Navas emphasizes the journalist’s impact on Colombia. “Her words have managed to create an arch of responsibility between the victims and the rest of society. Thus, they have restored that ethical bond by virtue of which we recognize that we have duties toward others who, like us, make up a political community.”

"The Buzz" is the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society's media portal for ethics-related news on campus and beyond. We review events and speakers, and we feature initiatives that are of broad interest. A wide range of voices author the articles, including undergraduate students.