Colombia: Race and Equality and Partner Organizations Present the First Report to the Truth Commission on the Impact of the Armed Conflict on the Afro-LGBT Population

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), the Corporación Caribe Afirmativo, Afrodescendiente por las Diversidades Sociales y Sexuales (Somos Identidad) Foundation, and the Arcoíris de Tumaco Foundation, with the support of the Canadian government, formally delivered to the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Reconciliation and Coexistence (CEV) the report, “They Told Us: You’re not just Black, but Maricas Too. Experiences and Impacts of the Armed Conflict on Afro-LGBT People in Southern Bolívar and the Colombian South Pacific.” The event took place virtually on March 30 and was broadcast live on the Truth Commission’s social networks and YouTube channel.

The report was motivated by the need to contribute to the recognition by the Truth Commission, state institutions and the greater society of the aggravated forms of violence, discrimination, and exclusion that Afro-LGBT people faced. Such violence, discrimination, and exclusion are due to the intersection of vulnerabilities associated with ethno-racial, sexual orientations and diverse gender identities, and conditions of socio-economic marginality in the midst of the Colombian armed conflict in Southern Bolívar and in the Colombian South Pacific.

The evented was attended by Carlos Quesada, Executive Director; Zuleika Rivera, LGBTI Program Officer; and Laura Poveda, LGBTI Consultant in Colombia. From partner organizations, Cindy Paola Hawkins, Lawyer of the Area of Peace and Armed Conflict of Caribe Afirmativo; Justo Arévalo, President of Arcoíris de Tumaco; Sandra Milena Arizabaleta, Legal Representative of the Somos Identidad Foundation, and Andrés Quiñonez, Lawyer of the Arcoíris de Tumaco Foundation.

Salomé Gómez Corrales, Coordinator of the Gender Working Group of the Truth Commission; Sonia Londoño, Director of Ethnic Peoples, Nikita Simonne, Gender Working Group Analyst all received the report for the CEV.

Carlos Quesada began the event by thanking the members for delivering this report, especially to the Afro-LGBT victims for their courage in coming out and sharing their stories. He highlighted the work that has been done with Race and Equality which serves as a bridge between victims, their life experiences and the transitional justice created by the Peace Agreement.

THE REPORT

The report is the end result of the three partner organizations and is focused on the work regions of each organization: Southern Bolívar, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño. In the report the organizations focused on the period between 1998 and 2014, this allowed for the construction of a matrix of cases. The organizations monitored the media relating to the context of the armed conflict and the human rights situation of Afro-LGBT people.

Cindy Paola Hawkins, from Caribe Afirmativo, emphasized the importance of the Afro resistance process in the southern department of Bolívar. She noted the connection between the displacement of Afro-communities from Cartagena to the south and the State’s abandonment, the poverty and poor management of resources Afro-communities face, a situation that foments their victimization by armed groups.

Hawkins expressed, This territorial context places peoples of African descent in conditions of vulnerability and precariousness, which were exacerbated and deepened in the context of the armed conflict, an environment that was also full of hostility to the LGBT people. Being Afro and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, place victims at greater risk, vulnerability, marginality and exclusion when faced with the burden of racist, sexist, heteronormative and cisgender prejudices and imaginaries.” Hawkins specified how paramilitary groups and the National Liberation Army (ELN) used intimidation and violent strategies such as threats, sexual violence, forced displacement and femicide to persecute and attack Afro-LGBT people.

THE NEED FOR AN INTERSECTIONAL FOCUS

“You can’t conceive of a divided or fragmented identity, you inhabit the territory being Afro-LGBT as a whole,” said Laura Poveda, LGBTI Consultant for Race and Equality in Colombia, alluding to the importance of self-recognition in understanding people’s lives. Poveda stressed that the analysis of the intersection of multiple and simultaneous discriminations allows for the recognition of diversity in the territories. In addition, she expressed that it should be understood that victims have forged their identity in different ways.

Justo Arévalo, President of the Arcoíris de Tumaco, described the context in their region, and denounced the normalization of multiple forms of violence against the Afro-LGBT people in their territory. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and being black, adding coming from a rural region and in some cases disabled, poor, with or without little education in a territory without access to fundamental rights, historically forgotten, is a reality.” He pointed out that only now and after overcoming their fears, many people raised their voices and shared their testimony, but much remains to be said.

Sandra Milena Arizabaleta, from the Somos Identidad Foundation, made an analysis of the particularities of violence in her territory (Cauca and Valle del Cauca), emphasizing the importance of recognizing that all armed actors have violated the black community and that this violence, accompanied by constant State abandonment, has led these communities to displacement and eviction from their territories.

The lawyer from the Arcoíris de Tumaco Foundation, Andrés Quiñonez, articulated what should be the focus of the exercise of truth-seeking and non-recurrence of violations of the rights of Afro-LGBT victims. The exercise should be aimed at the Colombian State and society recognizing prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation and diverse gender identity as the main pattern in which violations of the rights of Afro-LGBT victims are based.”

At the close of the event, the Truth Commission shared its impressions. Salomé Gómez, Coordinator of the Commission’s Working Group on Gender, highlighted the report’s contribution to the analysis of violence based on prejudice, as well as the importance of including an intersectional approach. Sonia Londoño, Director of Ethnic Peoples of the Commission said, “This work is fundamental for the Commission, because it allows us to fill the intersectional approach with content.” Nikita Simonne, Gender Working Group Analyst, closed the discussion with the following words, “To make invisible other expressions of body, gender and sexuality is in itself a colonial action,” and also made a call to understand that the effects of the conflict are systematic and systemic and seek to annihilate the different.

Race and Equality expresses its gratitude to the civil society organizations who prepared this report, as well as the Truth Commission for allotting the space to present the impact of the Colombian armed conflict on the Afro-LGBT population, in the hopes that this report will contribute to the clarification of the truth, and the search for justice and non-repetition of these human rights violations. In this regard, we reiterate the following recommendations:

  1. That the final report of the Truth Commission explicitly recognizes Afro-LGBT persons as victims of the armed conflict.
  2. Such recognition should investigate how prejudice and the invisibility of Afro-LGBT people exacerbated the consequences of the armed conflict, highlighting the differential impacts.
  3. That the Commission integrates specific recommendations in its final report for overcoming the invisibility of the Afro-LGBT population and for its due attention.
  4. That the Commission integrate an intersectional approach in the mechanisms for socializing the report and in the mechanisms established to follow up on its recommendations.
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