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Cablegate: Embassy Bogota Woman of Courage Nomination

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R 112036Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1558
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
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RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 003533

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TAGS: PHUM KWMN PTER KJUS CO
SUBJECT: EMBASSY BOGOTA WOMAN OF COURAGE NOMINATION

SUMMARY

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1. Embassy Bogota nominates Claudia Maria Mejia Duque, Executive
Director and co-founder of women's rights NGO Sisma Mujer, for the
Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage
(IWOC). Mejia's organization has empowered women to address and
overcome the impact of sexual violence, encouraged victims to
prosecute cases, altered judicial system treatment of sexual
violence cases, championed the government's adoption of a women's
violence law, and increased awareness of sexual violence as a tool
of war among human rights activists. End Summary.

WOMEN'S RIGHTS NGO MAKES A DIFFERENCE

-------------------------------------

2. Embassy Bogota nominates Claudia Maria Mejia Duque for the IWOC
Award. In 1998, Mejia and four co-founders started Sisma Mujer, a
women's rights NGO that focuses on the effects of the Colombian
conflict on the lives of women. Sisma Mujer has grown to 25
lawyers, psychologists, and political scientists on staff. The
organization seeks to eradicate violence against women in families,
communities, and the internal armed conflict through protecting
victims' rights, promoting women's political participation, and
changing Colombia's legal and judicial culture. Mejia is the only
co-founder who remains associQed with Sisma Mujer; she serves as
Executive Director.

SUPPORT TO VICTIMS

------------------

3. "Colombia has been in conflict my entire life," said Mejia,
"and women -- especially the poor and members of racial minorities
like the indigenous and Afro-Colombians -- are the most
vulnerable." Mejia notes that as part of Colombia's Justice and
Peace Process, demobilized paramilitary leaders have confessed to
homicides, massacres, torture, and other crimes, yet almost none
have confessed to rape. Victims themselves have been traditionally
reluctant to decry rape due to societal stigmatization. According
to Mejia, sexual violence is the only common human rights violation
in Colombia for which victims feel guilt and blame.

4. Mejia and Sisma Mujer are changing that culture of shame.
Sisma Mujer's support groups for rape victims provide psychological
assistance to women and empower them to take civic leadership roles
in their communities. However, says Mejia, an unexpected
consequence of support group participation and its resulting
empowerment is that victims who were formerly unwilling to
prosecute will often decide to pursue legal action. Victims make
this decision in spite of intimate familiarity with the judicial
obstacles and societal pressures faced by their fellow support
group participants who have already initiated legal proceedings.
According to Mejia, many victims turn to the courts not for
retribution or reparation, but because they hope their actions will
prevent more victims.

5. Sisma Mujer has had some breakthrough cases that Mejia believes
will establish precedent for future victims who must work their way

through Colombia's ponderous judicial system. These cases are
grim, and the resulting successes are measured, but the victims now
feel empowered and are encouraged by a belief that their struggle
will positively impact the lives of other women. In one case, a 14
year-old girl was enslaved for five years by a paramilitary member
whose actions were facilitated by other illegal actors. Through
long negotiations, the presentation of copious evidence, and
sharing international case studies, Mejia and other lawyers at
Sisma Mujer convinced the prosecutor to prosecute all the
individuals who enabled the sexual enslavement, not just the one
man who raped the victim. The trial, with multiple defendants, is
expected to begin soon.

6. In another case, the prosecutor refused to investigate the rape
of a 14 year-old displaced Afro-Colombian girl, since, as the
prosecutor privately told Mejia, she believed a member of that
racial group would have provoked the sexual contact. Sisma Mujer,
in collaboration with two human rights NGOs, took the case to the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which determined
the GOC had failed to protect the victim. Sisma Mujer is currently
in negotiation with the GOC to determine appropriate reparation for
the victim.

7. Eleven years ago when she started Sisma Mujer, Mejia could
rarely get victims to pursue legal action; now she says Sisma Mujer
cannot meet the demand for legal assistance. Prosecutors now
frequently refer rape victims to Sisma Mujer -- a testament to the
organization's success in improving awareness within the judicial
system about sexual violence. Sisma Mujer has also broadened the
understanding that human rights violations include sexual violence
-- and prominent Colombian human rights NGOs now seek to partner
with Sisma Mujer on sexual violence cases to be presented in
international courts.

POLITICAL ACTIVISM

------------------

8. Mejia and Sisma Mujer played a leadership role -- through
drafting legislation and lobbying members of Congress -- in the
GOC's adoption of a women's violence law, Law 1257 of 2008. But
Mejia insists her work training local women politicians from all
political parties will have a more profound impact on Colombia's
political future. In the last local elections, 30 percent of
female politicians trained by Sisma Mujer won. "These women focus
on basic values, and incorporate women's issues into all aspects of
their political platforms," says Mejia, "and we find they are less
susceptible to corruption and more likely to govern with the
interest of the local population in mind."

NOMINEE INFORMATION

-------------------

9. Ms. Mejia was notified of the nomination and is willing to
accept the award if chosen.

Legal Name: Claudia Maria Mejia Duque.

Job Title/Association: Executive Director, Sisma Mujer.

DOB: August 16, 1958.

Country of Birth/Citizenship: Colombia.

Address: Carrera 13 No. 33-74 Office 304, Bogota, Colombia;

Phone Number: 571-285-9319 (office), 57-315-894-2140 (cell)Email:
direccion@sismamujer.org.

Passport Number: 41797415.

Language: Spanish.

Post Contact: Carolyn Cooley, Human Rights Officer,
CooleyCN@state.gov.
NICHOLS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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