Challenges for the Identification and Prosecution of Feminicides in Colombia

Discriminating stereotypes and prejudices from the justice authorities in Colombia as well as the failure to identify feminicides impede truthful records on violence against women. 

Feminicides in Colombia
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In Colombia, two years after the passing of the Law “Rosa Elvira Cely” (Law 1761) which criminalizes feminicide, a court handed down a severe sentence for aggravated feminicide for the murder of 7-year-old Yuliana Samboni, with a prison term of 51 years. The judge found that the accused “steered his conduct to the satisfaction of his sexual appetite under circumstances that he knew were contrary to the law”, and reminded the court that the accused had accepted the fact he caused the girl´s death due to her “being a woman”. 

In what is a milestone in Colombia´s legal history, the judge noted the circumstances and facts necessary for a case to receive the criminal classification of feminicide, ratifying the importance of the context of events and the attribution of the motive “for being a woman”. 

Pursuant to the Law 1257 of 2008, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice pointed out that feminicide goes far deeper than the death of women at the hands of a spouse or a partner in the context of a marital or intimate relationship. 

Similarly, the trial judge in the case of 7-year-old Yuliana Samboni clearly stated in her sentencing that “the body is in essence the place where the cultural interpretations of the roles of women and men in society are reflected and reproduced. The body of the man is the one that thinks, creates, builds, fights and defends. Woman reproduces, cares for, offers warmth and comfort, and loves. From ancient times, these concepts have determined the assignation of social roles: masculinity organizes and governs in public life; femininity is subdued and obeys in private… this notion constitutes the cornerstone of the discrimination and domination to which historically women have been subjected and the basis for the multiple types of violence inflicted upon them” [1].  

Yuliana’s case marked a watershed not only in the length of the sentence imposed but in the clarity and power of the judge’s sentencing remarks, which were based on gender analysis and the rights of women and girls. However, it is as well to remember that Yuliana’s is far from the only case in Colombia, and the identification of particular violent deaths as feminicides presents enormous difficulties. 

According to data collected by the Institute of Legal Medicine of the 3,077 violent deaths of women in 2016, 205 were committed by unknown aggressors, and 128 by a partner or ex-partner [2]. From a gender analysis perspective, we can conclude that feminicide should at least be considered as a hypothesis in the criminal investigation of these 128 violent deaths of women, generating the necessary alerts. 

In Colombia, the Legal Medicine Institute collects data on violent deaths of women, classifying them as either homicides or murders. However, for murders to be designated with the special criminal classification of feminicide it is incumbent on the Attorney General of the Nation (Fiscal General de la Nación) to carry out case-by-case investigations. 

Legal Medicine´s Annual Reports are the only official source for systematic information on feminicide and other forms of violence against women. The reports reveal the seriousness of the problem of the plague of attacks on women´s lives: “Every 28 minutes a woman suffers sexual violence, every 12 minutes a woman is injured by her partner or ex-partner; at least 1 in 3 women are the victims of economic violence and every 4 days a woman is killed by her partner or ex-partner. 413 women were the victims of feminicide in the last three years”. 

The figures are even more alarming if we take into consideration the numerous problems we have with the under-recording of victims or the lack of recognition of attempted feminicide, which finds itself relegated to the category of personal injury. We can safely say, therefore, that in Colombia the full scale of feminicide is still unknown. 

Given this situation, it is of the utmost importance that the databases form the basis for the drawing up and the implementation of government policies. Some of the challenges that the Colombian State faces in compiling a comprehensive database on feminicides are:

  • Difficulties in the identification of feminicides by authorities: recognizing this crime involves eliminating substantial gaps in the legal system as well as confronting the prejudices, stereotypes and practices common among State legal personnel. Such beliefs and attitudes question, in many cases, the very existence of feminicide, reducing it to concepts such as “crime of passion” that ignore its historical foundation in sexism and patriarchy. 
  • The lack of an effective policy of feminicide prevention that would include a systemic approach, the analysis of cases and determining factors, and the assessment of the context of the crimes. As this is a crime that generally occurs after a cycle of violence, a prevention strategy must be put in place that identifies key indicators of likely feminicides and acts decisively to prevent them.
  • The difficulties involved in the analysis and collection of evidence in these types of crimes causes problems when it comes to identifying cases of the killing of women as feminicides. While in Colombia there have been exemplary prison sentences handed down for feminicides, in other cases the perpetrators have got away with their crimes. Such laxity in the law sends out the wrong message to society about the tolerance (explicit or implicit) of this type of criminality. 
  • The non-recognition of the inducement of women into suicide of feminicide nature [3]. In Colombia this type of feminicide is not even considered, with the result that in most cases women´s suicides are not investigated as feminicide and are not subject to, for example, psychological autopsies. Evidence that could prove that suicides by induction or assistance are in fact feminicides is therefore not considered.  

Faced by a culture of impunity for these forms of violence against women, women´s social movements and the other organizations have developed various processes of political lobbying, through which they address the Colombian State and demand that it confronts this violence and eradicates feminicides. The cases referred to and those of other women victims of feminicide have roused the anger of women around the country. Society has had to listen to the voices of women that year after year meet where the body of Rosa Elvira was found, to remember her and all the women that have suffered this crime. Today, those voices strongly demand respect for the right to life and security for women and girls, as well as a real commitment from the Colombian State to eliminate all forms of violence that give rise to feminicides. 


[1] Sentence of the Case Yuliana Samboni (2017). Page 27.

[2] National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences (2017). Page 116.

[3] A feminicide suicide is the inducement of a woman to commit suicide or to aid her in doing so in the context of a relationship of oppression and subordination. (MASATUGÓ 2009-2014, 2015).