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In Colombia, rape now being prosecuted as weapon of war

In May 2007, only 12 cases of sexual violence were filed with prosecutors appointed to carry out Colombia's special Justice and Peace Law. Today that number stands at 228.

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Amelia had spent years counseling a woman who was raped by a right-wing warlord and suffered an unwanted pregnancy. So when the woman called her for advice after the warlord threatened to return to take away the child, Amelia rushed to go see her.

The two women stayed up late discussing how to protect the child in an isolated farmhouse in Colombia's Antioquia Province. Suddenly, three masked gunmen burst into the house and warned Amelia to "stop messing in other people's business." The men then raped both women.

"They said I should take this as a warning," Amelia says, adding that the men had told her not to leave the house for three days. When she left, she told no one what had happened to her.

"I had insisted so much for other victims to report crimes, but I felt paralyzed by fear. I was too afraid to say anything," says Amelia, a nervous woman in her early 40s, who asked that her real name not be used. Suddenly she understood on a whole new level why the victims she'd counseled had resisted reporting their attacks.

In the conflicts in eastern Congo, Sudan's Darfur region, Serbia, and Rwanda, the widespread systematic raping of women has been well documented. In Colombia, however, the scale of rape and sexual violence as part of the four-decade-old conflict is largely unknown.

Local and national women's organizations say there are thousands of cases of sexual violence – by right-wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas – that go unreported by women too afraid to talk. But now, the groups are campaigning to make women aware of their rights as victims and to push prosecutors to question paramilitaries about sexual violence.

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