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"Here I am, here I will stay"

By Jessica Garcia

Some may say that “Plan Colombia”, a multi-billion dollar military aid package to Colombia, is a thing of the past, but not for the victims of sexual assaults committed by the U.S. military against Colombian women and girls. Impunity can never be a thing of the past.

15 years of resistance against impunity

"Here I am and here I will stay," says Olga Lucía Castillo Campo in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. There, next to several banners demanding justice for her daughter and her family, she has been camping out for more than a month. But her struggle did not begin a month ago, Olga has been demanding for 15 years that the two men responsible for the rape of her daughter, who in 2007 was only 12 years old, at the military base in Melgar (Tolima, Colombia) be brought to justice.

Olga Castillo (Photo: Marcela Cárdenas)

Those responsible are two U.S. citizens, Michael J. Coen and César Ruiz, both men were providing services under the rubric of“Plan Colombia”. The first one, at that time an active sergeant in the U.S. Army, and the latter, a retired U.S. military officer and by 2007 worked as a private military contractor under “Plan Colombia”.

The human rights of this girl and her family have continued to be violated not only by members of the U.S. military, but also by both the Colombian and U.S. governments, since in 15 years they have not had access to justice but only persecution and an absolute lack of protection and accompaniment.

When we asked Olga about the consequences for her and her family, the first thing she mentions are the psychological effects on her daughter, her granddaughter, her sister, her mother and herself. Her family has been totally destroyed, from the moment her daughter was raped and she decided to go out to demand justice. "I have no life, I have no calm. I think who is going to help me legally, but nobody helps me legally. I have only been rejected”. However, the effects have not only affected the mental health of her entire family. Olga has suffered four attempts on her life and seven forced internal displacements. However, despite numerous attempts to silence her, today she stands in front of the U.S. Embassy demanding the only thing she has demanded for 15 years: justice.

Plan Colombia and impunity as a rule

Unfortunately, Jessica's case is not an isolated case, neither in Colombia nor in the world. The United States has been signing diplomatic immunity agreements for years so that its troops can commit any type of crime around the world with total impunity.

In 1962, the United States and Colombia signed the General Agreement for Economic, Technical and Related Assistance between the Government of Colombia and the Government of the United States of America, which states, among other things, that "The Government of Colombia shall receive a special mission and its personnel to perform the duties of the Government of the United States of America under this Agreement and shall consider such special mission and its personnel as part of the Diplomatic Mission of the Government of the United States of America in Colombia, with the purpose of granting them the privileges and immunities accorded to that Mission and its personnel of equal rank".

In 1999, the United States and Colombia signed a new agreement, Plan Colombia, through which the northern power provides economic and military assistance to Colombia under the argument of the fight against drug trafficking, which implies the arrival of numerous U.S. troops to the country.

In order to protect its personnel from any type of sanction for the crimes they might commit in this territory, and in the framework of the pressure campaign carried out by the United States in order to prevent the International Criminal Court from judging US nationals who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide in the territory of another country, in 2003 another impunity agreement was signed between the United States and Colombia. This agreement establishes that: "A person of the United States of America, the Sending State, shall not, except with the express consent of the United States of America, be (a) surrendered or transferred in any manner to the International Criminal Court for any purpose, or (b) surrendered or transferred in any manner to any entity or third country, or expelled to a third country for the purpose of surrender or transfer to the International Criminal Court".

We stand in solidarity with the demand for justice and ask that the voices of women victims of sexual violence by U.S. military personnel who continue to commit crimes around the world in complete impunity be heard.

The tireless search for justice in the face of impunity

It has been 15 years since the life of a 12-year-old girl and her family changed forever as a result of the militarization of the territory and the violence it entails.

In 2009, the then senator and current president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, tried to make the case visible in Congress when the installation of U.S. military bases in Colombian territory was being discussed in order to show the risks implied by the permanence of more U.S. military in Colombia in complete impunity.

In 2015, in the framework of the installation of the dialogue table with the then FARC - EP in Cuba, a report prepared by the Historical Commission of the Conflict and its Victims was presented. The report, which was intended to be a "fundamental input for understanding the complexity of the conflict and the responsibilities of those who participated or had an impact on it, and for the clarification of the truth", includes a chapter on the interference of the United States in the Colombian armed conflict. This chapter refers to 53 sexual abuses committed by U.S. military personnel against Colombian girls that are still in impunity, among them the case mentioned in this article.

However, 15 years later, and despite the visibility acquired during this period, Jessica's case remains in impunity, the perpetrators free and the victims in a constant situation of vulnerability and persecution for the mere fact of demanding justice.

Justice, only justice

What does Olga demand? Only justice and reparations for her daughter, who is now 27 years old, but who continues to suffer the effects of the sexual violence she suffered 15 years ago.

Olga Castillo in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá ( Photo: Marcela Cárdenas)

Currently, Olga is suffering from breast cancer, which leaves her in a lot of pain, but not for that reason with less resistance, because as she says: "I am fighting for my life and for her life" (her daughter). "I want justice, I want her to have peace with herself. For me, I already lived what I had to live, but she... She hurts me, she is young...".

On behalf of the Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, we stand in solidarity with the demand for justice and we ask that the voice of the women victims of sexual violence committed by the United States military, who continue to commit crimes around the world with complete impunity, be heard.

Olga will continue to fight even if her body and soul hurt, she will continue to demand justice even if it costs her life.


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