Global Freedom of Expression

Bedoya Lima v. Colombia

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    August 26, 2021
  • Outcome
    Decision - Procedural Outcome, Motion Granted, Violation of a Rule of International Law, ACHR or American Declaration of the Rights and Duties Violation
  • Case Number
    Serie C No. 431
  • Region & Country
    Colombia, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)
  • Type of Law
    International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
  • Tags
    Violence, Journalism

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the Colombian State responsible for the violation of the right to personal integrity, personal liberty, honor and dignity, and freedom of thought and expression of Colombian journalist, Jineth Bedoya. On May 25, 2000, the reporter visited “La Modelo” prison in Bogota, Colombia to conduct an interview, but before entering the prison she was abducted, kidnapped and taken to a warehouse where she was sexually abused and assaulted by several men. The IACtHR considered that the State violated its obligation to guarantee Bedoya’s safety because it did not implement effective protection measures for the victim, even when it was aware of the risk she faced because of the issues she covered and because she was a female journalist.


Facts

On April 27, 2000, a confrontation took place between right wing paramilitaries and members of other armed groups inside “La Modelo” Prison in Bogotá, Colombia. Journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima reported the events and received death threats as a result. However, on May 24, 2000, Bedoya received the news that she would be received by one of the inmates for an interview. The next day Bedoya visited the prison to conduct the interview.

On May 25, 2000, upon arriving at the prison, a guard told the journalist that she had to wait to be allowed in and that she could only enter with the photographer. While waiting, Bedoya was alone for a few minutes and was approached by a man who grabbed her violently and threatened her with a firearm. The man took her to a warehouse where two other men were also present. There, she was blindfolded, insulted, assaulted and tied up. Later they put her in a vehicle and continued beating her. During the kidnapping, which was later joined by more men (including uniformed officers), Bedoya was sexually assaulted several times.

Amidst the violence, the kidnappers repeated that they had to “clean up the media”, that “the journalists were going to ruin the country”, that they were “financed by the guerrillas” and that they were going to punish them. After 10 hours of being held hostage, Bedoya was left on the side of a road in Villavicencio, Colombia. The journalist was unable to move for some time until a taxi driver found her and took her to a police station before she was transferred to the hospital.

The following day the prosecutor’s office ordered the opening of a preliminary criminal investigation for the crime of “simple kidnapping” and “violent sexual act”. During the following years, several investigation procedures were carried out, including 12 statements that Bedoya had to give. In addition, the victim had to conduct her own investigation and provide evidence to the process collected by herself.

As a result of the criminal proceedings opened against those accused of the acts committed, in 2016 and 2019 three men related to paramilitarism (Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, Jesús Emiro Pereira Rivera and Mario Jaimes Mejía) were convicted as material perpetrators of the alleged acts and sentenced to between 11 and 40 years in prison.

During the years of the investigation Bedoya received continuous threats and as a result the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACmHR) had to grant precautionary measures to protect her life and physical integrity.

On June 3, 2011, the Inter-American Commission received a petition filed by the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), alleging the international responsibility of the Republic of Colombia to the detriment of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima and her mother, Luz Nelly Lima. On July 21, 2014, the IACmHR issued its admissibility report on the case and the merits report on December 7, 2018. Later, on September 6, 2019 the IACmHR filed the case against Colombia before the court.


Decision Overview

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights reviewed the international responsibility of the State of Colombia for the violation of the rights to personal integrity, personal liberty, honor and dignity and freedom of thought and expression to the detriment of journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, as well as for the violation of the rights to judicial guarantees, judicial protection and equality before the law due to the lack of due diligence, the gender discrimination in the investigations and the violation of reasonable time. On August 26, 2021, the IACtHR declared the Colombian State responsible for the violation of the right to personal integrity, personal liberty, honor and dignity, and freedom of thought and expression of Bedoya.

The IACHR alleged that Bedoya was a victim of kidnapping, torture and rape, for reasons that were allegedly linked to her profession. The petitioner claimed that the Colombian State should have been aware of Bedoya’s dangerous situation. In the Commission’s view, the national context and the circumstances of the case indicated the risk faced by the journalist. It also warned that none of the Colombian State security entities “adopted timely and adequate measures to avoid acts of violence and intimidation against Jineth Bedoya, in particular, to prevent the events of May 25, 2000” [par. 83]. For the Commission, these measures could reasonably have prevented the occurrence of a certain and imminent risk to Bedoya’s life, integrity and liberty, in violation of Articles 4, 5 and 7 of the American Convention. The lack of protection affected other fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression, contained in Article 13 of the American Convention. Finally, by failing to comply with its obligation to protect the journalist from the sexual violence she suffered, the Commission considered that the State violated Articles 5(1), 5(2), 11 and 24 of the American Convention, in relation to the obligations contained in Article 1(1), Article 7(b) of the Convention of Belém do Pará and Articles 1 and 6 of the The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture (IACPPT). It also considered that there were “serious indications” suggesting the participation of State agents.

For their part, the representatives alleged that “the State did not comply with its obligation to respect, since there was “close collaboration” between paramilitaries and State agents in the commission of the events of May 25, 2000″ [par. 84]. Additionally, they added that the State had a reinforced duty to protect Bedoya because she was a female journalist, a human rights defender and because the authorities were aware of the great risk to which she was exposed.

In its defense, the Colombian State indicated that reasonable measures were adopted to prevent the risk to which the journalist was exposed. The State argued that Bedoya “was accompanied by State authorities, especially the National Police, who offered her protection measures due to the threats received” [par. 85]. Regarding the events of May 25, 2000, the State claimed that the authorities carried out a serious and diligent investigation into the possible participation of State agents, however the allegation could not be corroborated.

The Court analyzed the international responsibility of the State for the kidnapping and acts of torture to which Bedoya was subjected on May 25, 2000. The court emphasized the particular risk faced by women journalists as a result of gender-based violence. Therefore, protection measures must be implemented to observe and address the standards of gender-based violence and non-discrimination. In addition, States have a positive obligation to “a) identify and investigate with due diligence the special risks they face as women journalists, as well as the factors that increase the possibility of them being victims of violence, and b) implement a gender-based approach when adopting measures to guarantee the safety of women journalists, including those of a preventive nature, when requested, as well as those aimed at protecting them against reprisals” [par. 91].

In the specific case, the Court concluded that the State’s duty of prevention required reinforced due diligence, since Bedoya was in a doubly vulnerable position: for her work as a journalist and because she is a woman. According to the ruling, the authorities were aware of the risk that the journalist was running and did not provide adequate measures to prevent it from occurring. Therefore, the Court declared the international responsibility of the State for the violation of the duty of care.

In addition, the Court noted the existence of serious indications of State participation in the events of May 25, 2000, given the strange conduct of the prison guard, the irregular entry to the facility and the presence of uniformed officers during the abduction. Consequently, the Court concluded that the State was responsible, in breach of its obligation to respect, for the interception and kidnapping of Bedoya, in violation of Article 7 of the American Convention, in relation to Article 1(1) of the same and Articles 7(a) and 7(b) of the Convention of Belém do Pará. In this regard, the judgment notes that during the kidnapping, Bedoya was subjected to “acts of physical, sexual and psychological torture, which could not have been carried out without the acquiescence and collaboration of the State, or at least with its tolerance” [para. 104]. For this reason, it also declared the violation of Articles 5(2) and 11 of the American Convention, in relation to the obligations contained in Article 1(1) of the same instrument, Articles 7(a) and 7(b) of the Convention of Belém do Pará and Articles 1 and 6 of the IACPPT.

In reference to the violation of the right to freedom of thought and expression, the Court recalled that this right has an individual and a social dimension. Thus, the judgment notes that the kidnapping, torture, rape and other aggressions suffered by Bedoya occurred while she was working as a journalist. From the individual dimension, it was concluded that the attack “was intended to punish and intimidate the journalist and thereby affect the individual exercise of her right to freedom of thought and expression” [par. 109]. From the social dimension, the Court concluded that the absence of an effective guarantee of freedom of thought and expression generated a “chilling effect that caused the public to lose relevant voices and points of view, and, in particular, women’s voices and points of view, which, in turn, led to an increase in the gender gap in the journalistic profession and attacked pluralism as an essential element of freedom of thought and expression and democracy” [par. 113]. Based on the aforementioned, the ruling defined that Colombia violated its obligation to respect and guarantee Bedoya’s right to freedom of thought and expression, established in Article 13 of the American Convention, in relation to Article 1(1) of said treaty.

With regard to due diligence, the Court considered that in the investigation of these cases of violence against women journalists, the duty of due diligence must be subjected to strict scrutiny. This, firstly, to comply with the positive obligation to guarantee freedom of expression and protect the exercise of the journalistic profession, and secondly, for the prevention and protection of violence against women. Thus, “when investigating acts of violence directed against women journalists, States have the obligation to adopt all the necessary measures to approach such investigation from an intersectional perspective that takes into account these different axes of vulnerability that affect the person involved, which, in turn, motivate or potentiate the reinforced due diligence” [par. 126].

The Court found multiple faults in the criminal investigation that forced Bedoya herself to carry out the investigation on her own and recount her testimony on numerous occasions, evidencing the discrimination based on gender of the judicial process. In addition to the above, the mistakes in the gathering of evidence and the violation of the reasonable period of time for the investigation and prosecution of the accused perpetuated an individual and social feeling of impunity and violence against journalists. Thus, the Court concluded that the State violated the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection established in Articles 8(1) and 25(1) of the American Convention, in relation to Articles 1(1) and 24 of said treaty, as well as Article 7(b) of the Convention of Belém do Pará, to the detriment of Bedoya.

Lastly, the Court recognized the State’s responsibility in relation to the threats received before and after May 25, 2000, which affected both the exercise of freedom of expression and the personal integrity of the journalist and her mother Luz Nelly Lima.

The Court established that the judgment itself constitutes a form of reparation, and additionally ordered the Colombian State to promote the pending investigations and sanctions, circulate the judgment, implement effective measures for the protection of women journalists, create a memorial center to raise awareness on violence against women and investigative journalism, issue a monthly program based on Bedoya’s campaign against sexual violence, and pay the compensation established for Jineth Bedoya and her mother, Nelly Lima.


Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision expands expression by implementing international human rights standards for the protection of female journalists who have been victims of sexual violence in relation to their journalistic work. This is a landmark judgment, as it is the first decision of an international human rights court referring to this phenomenon. In addition, the judgment plays a key role in advancing in the creation of standards of heightened due diligence by the governments with regards to women journalists.

Global Perspective

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Case Significance

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