Colombia is responsible for the kidnapping, rape and torture of female journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules

In a landmark judgment on issues concerning both safety of journalists and violence against women, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has held that the Colombian State is responsible for the violation of multiple rights of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, and her mother, Luz Nelly Lima.

In May 2000, Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped at the entrance to La Modelo Prison in Bogotá while waiting for authorization to enter for an interview relating to her investigative work on paramilitaries and armed conflict in Colombia’s prisons. During the kidnapping, she was drugged, tortured and raped and told by her attackers that this was “punishment” for her journalism. This attack followed repeated earlier threats to Jineth Bedoya Lima, a 1999 attack on her and her mother, and multiple reports to the State authorities about the risks faced.

Jineth Bedoya Lima sought justice in Colombia for almost two decades, during which time she faced additional threats seeking to silence her. In January 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights adopted a “Merits Report” on her case. In July 2019 the CIDH referred her case to the IACtHR in Costa Rica. The CIDH described the significance of this case when referring it, as follows:

“This case constitutes the first opportunity for the Court to rule on the State’s obligation to prevent when it comes to cases related to the right to freedom of expression of women journalists, and on the positive obligation to protect with a gender perspective to guarantee the safety of women when in situations of special risk, in one of the most dangerous regions in the world for the exercise of journalism.”

The public hearings before the IACtHR took place in March 2021. Two members of Doughty Street gave expert testimony in the case, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Juan Mendez.

  • Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Head of the Doughty Street International Media Defence Panel, was an expert witness, appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She gave expert testimony to the IACtHR on violence against women journalists, sexual and gender-based violence, and applicable international standards.

  • Juan Mendez, Doughty Street International Academic Expert, and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, gave expert testimony to the IACtHR at the request of the petitioners, CEJIL and FLIP. He testified as an expert on the international law standards regarding torture.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the IACtHR ordered Colombia to immediately protect the journalist: "This court considers there to be ... an extremely serious and urgent situation, with the view to suffering irreparable damage, to Jineth Bedoya Lima and (her mother) Luz Nelly Lima.” 

The IACtHR’s judgment has now been handed down, on 18 October 2021. It finds that the State of Colombia is internationally responsible for the violation of the rights to personal integrity, personal liberty, honour, dignity, and freedom of expression of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima; that it violated the rights to Judicial Guarantees and Protection, and equality before the law, owing to the lack of due diligence when investigating the events, the gender-based discrimination in the investigation, and the delays and failure to adequately investigate and take protective measures in a reasonable time. The Court also held that her mother’s rights to personal integrity, honour, and dignity, Judicial Guarantees, and Protection had been violated.

Given these violations, the IACtHR has now ordered the Colombian State to take wide-ranging steps of reparation. This includes to:

  1. Investigate, prosecute and, as appropriate, punish the remaining perpetrators of the acts of violence and torture suffered by Ms. Bedoya in May 2000, and of the threats that she has suffered,

  2. Create and implement a training and awareness-raising program for public officials, law enforcement bodies, and agents of justice to ensure they have the necessary skills to: identify acts and manifestations of gender-based violence against women that affect women journalists, protect them from dangerous situations, and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators,

  3. Create a state centre for the memory and dignification of all women victims of sexual violence in the context of the armed conflict and investigative journalism, which specifically recognizes women journalists' work,

  4. Design and implement a system for the compilation of data and figures relating to cases of violence against journalists and gender-based violence against women journalists,

  5. Guarantee the dissemination of the program "No es hora de callar," to be transmitted by public media system,

  6. Establish a Fund to finance programs aimed at prevention, protection and assistance for women journalists victims of violence and the adoption of effective measures of protection to ensure the safety of women journalists who are exposed to special risks in the exercise of their profession.

The judgment is available here (Spanish only). A press summary is available from the Court in both English and Spanish.

Both Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Juan Mendez are members of the Doughty Street International Media Defence Panel, which has particular expertise in journalists’ safety. More detail about the work and expertise of the Panel is available here.