BOGOTA – A group of indigenous Colombians gathered on Friday in the capital to demand justice and condemn the alleged gang-rape of a 12-year-old of the Embera-Chami community allegedly committed by seven soldiers, who have been arrested.
The protest was held in front of the Monument to Fallen Heroes, situated in a large square meters away from the defense ministry headquarters in western Bogota.
The girl was kidnapped and raped on Monday in the Santa Cecilia hamlet in the central Risarelda department by the accused soldiers of the San Mateo battalion, triggering unanimous condemnation by the Colombian society.
Many protesters, most of them young women carrying children on their backs and wearing face masks, told EFE that they were there to protest against the girl’s rape and demand the culprits be brought to justice.
The indigenous people carried placards with slogans such as “prosecutors are complicit with rapists, corrupt people, murderers,” and references to disappeared youth, murdered farmers, and other rape victims.
The rape has caused widespread outrage against the accused and also led to a controversy over prosecution, with judicial experts alleging that the charges filed in the case do not address the crime committed by the soldiers.
The troops were charged with sexual abuse, but criminal lawyers have said that they should have been accused of violent sexual assault of a minor below the age of 14.
Francisco Bernate, the director of the Colombian Criminal Lawyers’ Association, told EFE that both offenses carried similar sentences of around 30 years, but their connotations are different because the charge filed against the accused assumes the victim’s consent.
“It doesn’t fit in my head at all that a child of 12 years would consent to establish sexual relations with seven strangers. The sexual abuse charge supposes that a minor (has) consented (for the act), agrees. What happens is that law does not give validity to such consent and that is why it punishes it,” he said.
Bernate insisted that the punishment was not the issue but the message that was being sent and how “a girl is being re-victimized,” adding that the sentence might not stretch to the maximum of 30 years as none of the accused had any criminal record.
He estimated the perpetrators might be sentenced to around 19 years in prison.
Meanwhile, Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez said on Friday that she did not back the prosecutors’ charges against the accused soldiers as they did not correspond to the crime.
“I completely disagree, this is a rape, it is not non-violent abuse, we have to call things by their name,” Ramirez said.
The public prosecutors’ office said on Thursday that all seven of the soldiers accused of raping the indigenous girl had pleaded guilty to abusive sexual acts, six of them as perpetrators and one as an accomplice.
The presiding municipal judge of Pueblo Rico, where the crime took place, sent the soldiers to prison pending trial, in this case, situated inside a military facility as per provisions.