Police and Military Abuse
Military and police forces have also been responsible for violations against LGBT Colombians. Raids, arbitrary detentions, torture, sexual harassment and expulsion from public places are the most common abuses. But threats and murders targeting people who denounce these violations have also been reported, according to the Center of Historic Memory Investigation.
Many of the testimonies in this investigation also denounce cases of “social cleansing” committed by the police and the military forces, sometimes in collaboration with paramilitary groups.
There have been more than 320 cases of personal injury and arbitrary detention by the police in the last four years. But investigators believe that threats, verbal aggressions and other intimidating acts often go unreported, a Colombia Diversa Report shows.
Number of cases of abuse since 2012
Percentage of cases that involved personal injuries and arbitrary detentions
Jose Miguel remembers several bad experiences with police officers. They often stopped him to ask for documents after leaving gay bars in Bogotá. He was detained for several hours for no good reason a couple of times, he said. But his worst experience came when he went to a police station to inquire about a friend who had been detained after a fight with his partner.
“All I wanted to know was if my friend needed anything, but the officer treated me in a very nasty way,” he said. “He told me to better leave if I didn’t want to end up in a cell like my friend. I know he was treating me like that because he noticed I was gay because he called me a ‘maricón’,” a slur for gay men.
Only one out of three abuses like the ones Jose Miguel experienced are reported. The victims either fear retaliation or think that the police won’t do anything, according to the Colombia Diversa Investigation.
Another problem is that those who report these crimes are often called to testify without much warning, making it difficult for them to show up on time at the police station. Once they have missed the appointments, the cases are closed and archived without their testimony, according to the Center of Historic Memory.
But beyond the flaws in the police system of investigation, there is a deeper issue. The National Code of Police Behavior has not been updated since 1970, when homosexual relations were still illegal in the country. Under this code of conduct, a kiss between two people of the same sex could be interpreted as an “obscene act” that could lead to a crime, the Center of Historic Memory Report shows.
Jose Miguel talks about raids that he witnessed in Bogota
Additionally, former military members quoted in the report explained that torture, arrests and discharges were the norm when a soldier was suspected of being gay.
A common form of punishment for male soldiers caught having sex with men was the “baño de Maria,” in which the soldier is forced to bend over with his pants down while all the members of his platoon hit him in the rear with a shoe until he starts bleeding. At the end of the hazing ritual, the commander pours water with salt over him to increase the pain.
These punishments were done in public because, beside humiliating and degrading the soldier, they were intended as a warning for all troops, they added.
Repressive practices like the “baño de Maria” were legal until 1999, when the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that sexual orientation was a fundamental part of the right to self-expression and therefore could no longer be forbidden in the military and the police.
Despite this ruling, homophobia is still widespread within these institutions. Admiral Roberto Garcia Marquez, recently appointed ambassador in the Dominican Republic, was quoted in the news site Kienyke.com saying that he would use all legal avenues to try to discharge homosexual members in his ranks because “that behavior” is not accepted in the navy.