This is the transcript of a Seeking Peace podcast episode featuring Jineth Bedoya.
Melanne Verveer From Georgetown University, this is Seeking Peace. I’m Melanne Verveer and this is Colombian journalist and activist Jineth Bedoya.
Jineth Bedoya For me it was … perhaps one of the most difficult times in my whole life. Because I had to tell them, to confront them. But I also think it was one of the greatest moments of dignity I’ve ever lived.
Melanne Verveer Jineth Bedoya is a Colombian journalist who was violently attacked during the war for her efforts to get at the truth. In the year 2000, she went to one of the most dangerous prisons in Colombia to investigate a prisoner massacre. She was kidnapped, raped and tortured. Her captors told her they were sending a message to the press. In 2009, she broke her silence and became a leading advocate for survivors of sexual violence.
We reached Jineth at her home in Bogotá to speak about her involvement in the historic peace agreement signed in Colombia in 2016 and learn how it is impacting women activists today. But we began by asking about her case against her perpetrators, which last year was elevated to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. It is the first time the Court will hear a case about a woman journalist in armed conflict.
Jineth Bedoya At this time, we’re at a stage where we’re presenting evidence before the Inter-American Court. This is a milestone. Not only for women journalists in Colombia but also for women journalists throughout Latin America. And I think the most significant take-away from this process was to have the ability to turn a tragedy into such an emblematic case.
Getting to the Inter-American Court has been a very long process. It’s been 10 years of presenting evidence, arguing the case, and at the same time, giving a voice of hope to other women journalists in the region. And, although I feel so tired of walking this path, I think we are in the final stretch of being able to find justice. And I dream of that day.
Melanne Verveer That’s so well put Jineth. And mentioning peace, I would like to talk to you a little bit about the Peace Agreement that was reached in Colombia after much, much effort.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – JINETH BEDOYA READING THE VICTIMS’ STATEMENT DURING PEACE TALKS IN HAVANA]
Melanne Verveer During the Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, you asked for truth on crimes of violence against women as a condition for peace.
How did you choose to make that demand?
Jineth Bedoya When the Peace process started, when the Peace process took its first steps, many women who had been victims of sexual violence contacted me and they asked me to not allow impunity to be negotiated in their cases. And I think it was very clear for me. It was very clear for me that I was not gonna allow for the negotiation of impunity in my case or in the cases of thousands of women survivors of sexual violence.
There was a difficult moment in the process, when no party wanted to acknowledge sexual violence. And that’s when I decided to go to Havana.
Melanne Verveer And so, Jineth, when you testified and you and others continued to struggle to have this very serious issue addressed in the peace process, it finally did result in one of the most significant provisions in the Peace Accords. The effort ensured that sexual violence was classified as a crime with penalties that could not be reduced. So this was an extraordinary milestone in a peace agreement. What did it mean to you and to so many of the other women with whom you worked in terms of the fight for peace and justice?
Jineth Bedoya There were many months of advocacy work, of talking with the parties, talking with the negotiators, insisting, pushing for the need to talk about sexual violence and most importantly, of not pardoning it, or allowing it to be treated as a common crime. And I think we invested a big piece of our lives in that work. When in the end we managed to get it recognized as a crime against humanity, I believe we felt that all of this effort was worth it. It was our big reward after what was, I must say, very hard work.
Melanne Verveer There is no doubt Jineth that what you and the others did was just an extraordinary achievement for peace and justice that now needs to be realized. And sadly, the implementation of the Peace Accords is not going well. It’s faltering. Women, human rights defenders are experiencing uncertainty and danger with regards to their work in Colombia at the moment. Tell us about what is happening and why what the human rights defenders are doing is so important?
Jineth Bedoya Right now, we are facing a very serious crisis in the implementation of the Peace Agreement. We have over 200 male and female defenders who have been assassinated so far in this past year and women defenders in this situation have no support. They are in really difficult conditions, and if on top of that you add the crisis from COVID-19, it hasn’t allowed them to do their work. But, the most difficult thing is to see how … their rights continue to be violated. Sexual violence is still been used as a weapon of war and that’s silencing us.
Women defenders don’t have any guarantees right now when it comes to doing their work. We have dozens of women being threatened in different territories and … sadly the outlook for the future is not looking positive. The peace process is in one of its worst stages. And what I feel is that there’s no commitment to implement everything that was included in the peace agreement from Havana.
Melanne Verveer It’s very tragic to hear this, Jineth, because the agreement that was reached is really one of the best agreements that went through an extensive inclusive process, some of which you described. And to see it not be implemented and realized, one can only hope that that will change and that there will be that prospect going forward.
Jineth Bedoya And I would add something that’s very important Melanne, and I think you know this, and it’s that to believe in peace doesn’t mean giving up on justice. It’s the opposite – to find justice is to find a response to those who don’t believe in peace.
Melanne Verveer Jineth, I know you have a campaign which in English loosely translates into: It’s No Time to Stay Silent. And clearly this is no time to stay silent. But because your campaign especially supports women and girls who have survived violence and there’s no place for silence in an effort to support them. Tell us a little bit about the challenges that the campaign confronts, some of the successes you’ve had, and perhaps how Covid, this terrible pandemic, has affected the work.
Jineth Bedoya No es Hora de Callar is the result of transforming pain into something positive. It’s No Time to be Silent. And that’s what we say every day to women who are suffering from and who are confronting gender based violence … to not stay silent, to raise their voices. This campaign will be 11 years old this September. And it’s been a time during which we have managed to directly support more than seven thousand women survivors.
The challenge for this campaign, like all initiatives focused on women in the world, is to persist in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Resources around the world are now focused on addressing the economic crisis, on supporting health systems, and sadly projects like ours that are focused on stopping gender-based violence have less financial support. And that has obviously caused us to face difficult circumstances. But we continue to work, and we are trying to still reach all of the regions in the country where we support women and in a digital way we continue to encourage them and accompany them in their cases. That is what’s most important.
There’s a data point that breaks our hearts and it is that during the pandemic, over the last six months, there have been 218 femicides in Colombia and these cases remain unsolved. So right now No es Hora de Callar is on a crusade to increase the visibility of these 218 women who died at the hands of machismo.
Melanne Verveer It’s truly heartbreaking, Jineth, to hear about the femicides and to hear about the ongoing challenges that women are confronting, and it’s ironic in a way that during the pandemic, it’s become more difficult to get support for these issues, because one of the major consequences that we’re finding with the pandemic is the rise in violence against women. And that is true in countries all over the world. I want to ask you about women peacebuilders. You are one yourself, obviously, but women have come together, not just in Colombia, but it has been extraordinary the way you’ve come together in Colombia, many from the suffering that they’ve endured over many, many years. How is it? Because I personally am always amazed how women can rise from their suffering to become very important peacebuilders.
Jineth Bedoya The strength that exists within women’s hearts, women who have survived war and violence is… immeasurable. And I think in the case of Colombia, the fact that these women know that they are the pillars of their communities has allowed them to move forward, to take some very big steps and to build beautiful social projects. A lot of these women are conscious that this is not the moment to stop, despite the difficulties the Peace Process is facing. To stop for a moment would mean giving up on years of progress that they won.
The faith that these women have is… is what I believe allows those of us who work for peace to still stand today. What I can tell you today is that not even a war or a pandemic can stop them; these women are invincible.
Melanne Verveer That is beautifully said, Jineth, and it is so important to keep hope alive. And the women that you’ve been talking about, the peacebuilders, are resilient and deeply committed to their work, which matters greatly. They are real leaders. And you have been a tremendous leader. And I want to ask you, what was it? Was there anything in particular, for example, that made you realize that you had qualities to lead and a platform through your journalism to be able to do that?
Jineth Bedoya Actually, I’m very touched by that question, because I never thought I would be what I am today. I was sure about my work as a reporter. I was confident about being a journalist, a woman who loved her profession, but nothing else. And the day I decided to speak about my rape publicly, that was the day I started down this path because I was able to connect with so many women who had also gone through this, and it had a domino effect. My voice rose up and dozens of other voices started to come out and say: it happened to me too.
And when that happened, I experienced a really, really deep crisis. I was overtaken by sadness. I became deeply depressed because I didn’t understand what was happening. It had a huge impact on me and after having a very long conversation with God, I understood that I had a powerful tool in my hands and that I had to use it. That tool was my voice and journalism. I still can’t really believe the effect that my words sometimes have, but I know that it’s real because people tell me so; because I’ve been able to transform women’s lives and I think that can only come from completely baring your soul, and from really connecting with oneself.
Melanne Verveer You know, Jineth, you have truly transformed the lives of many women and your work is so important. And I personally am so pleased that it’s been recognized in so many ways – nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. You’ve gotten many other prizes for your work as an activist in journalism. And this year you were awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize. I know you well enough to know that you do not see these as your great personal achievements because you’re a very humble person. But I’m sure that you see these recognitions as a validation of the important cause that you have undertaken, the important work that you are doing every day for something bigger than yourself, for something that matters greatly. Am I right about that?
Jineth Bedoya It’s very hard, it’s very hard to think about those awards and about the recognition, because I feel that what I do, even though people around me say it’s a lot, it’s not enough for me. You can’t imagine the number of cases that land in my inbox every day of women asking for help – and that triggers a huge sense of helplessness. I have had to accept that I won’t change the world, but that I can at least change the world for one person and I think that’s what gives me strength.
And I’m truly thankful for the awards and recognition I have received. But these awards are only important if they allow you to touch someone’s life, if they enable you to change someone’s life. That’s the biggest award. That’s the real award and every day I wake up thinking I have to touch someone else’s life. I think that’s what motivates me.
Melanne Verveer And Jineth those are beautiful words on which we end this extraordinary conversation. I want to thank you for what you do every day on behalf of survivors of sexual violence, on behalf of peacebuilders, on behalf of courageous journalists, on behalf of human rights defenders, on behalf of all of those who want to see a better world. Thank you so much.
Jineth Bedoya I just want to say thank you and share a message with the people who will be listening to us. And it’s that, sometimes we don’t believe in the power of our own voice. But we all have a voice and we need to make sure it’s heard. Thank you Melanne, really, mil gracias.
Melanne Verveer In September, Jineth’s campaign to help women marked its 11th year. She continues to work as a journalist and editor at a leading Colombian newspaper. The public hearing about her case at the Inter-American Human Rights Court will take place by the beginning of 2021. The Court’s decision about Jineth’s case will be the first about a woman journalist in armed conflict and the first to examine Colombia’s responsibility in a case about sexual violence.
This interview was produced by Laura Ubaté. Special thanks to Martine Chaussard for her interpretation of Jineth’s words.
If you like what you heard today, please share it far and wide. You can find all of our episodes on your favorite listening app or at seekingpeacepodcast.com.
If you want to hear the story of another Human Rights Defender in Colombia, in our next episode you’ll hear from a woman peace activist in Cauca, one of the most violent regions in the country
Clemencia Carabalí Rodallega Despite the hardships of people from communities of African descent and particularly Afro-descendant women in Colombia, we cannot lose the hope we get from dreaming of peace. I believe that we have to persist for there to be justice and that justice will bring about reconciliation.
That’s next time on Seeking Peace.
Melanne Verveer The second season of Seeking Peace is a production of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Adonde Media, in collaboration Our Secure Future. I’m your host, Melanne Verveer, thank you for listening.