This guest post is part of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence series.

By Marta Martinez

left to right: Petronila Mendoza and Yoladis Zúñiga featured in “Voices of Dignity” Photo: Camilo Aldana Sanín for ICTJ.

Yoladis Zúñiga and Petronila Mendoza survived an attack of right-wing paramilitaries on their villages, in which women and girls were raped, homes burned and a number of people killed, including their husbands. The two women fled with their children to Baranquilla, a city on Colombia’s Atlantic coast, joining almost four million displaced by the civil war.

In this war spanning decades, women were particularly affected by violence as victims of rape and displacement. More than 43.4 percent of displaced households in Colombia are headed by women.

The International Center for Transitional Justice’s (ICTJ) documentary Voices of Dignity tells the story of Yoladis and Petronila’s struggle to provide for their families and deal with the impact of trauma on their lives, all the while working with other victims to make their voices heard by government.

Their message is clear: reparations, both symbolic and material, publicly affirm that victims are entitled to redress.

Video Facts

  • Title: Voices of Dignity
  • Date created/posted: November 2012
  • Length: 22:49
  • Who made it: International Center for Transitional Justice and 101 Media Solutions
  • Location: Colombia
  • Human Rights Issues: crimes against humanity; forced disappearances; forced recruitment of children; gender based violence; state repression; torture; victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations.

Goal: With this video, ICTJ aims to reaffirm the fundamental rights of victims in Colombia and elsewhere: the rights to truth, acknowledgment, and redress.

Primary Audience: The intended audiences for this film include policymakers in Colombia and other countries dealing with legacies of conflict, as well as institutions and governments in the international community looking for ways to assist them on the promotion of victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations. At the same time, the video can serve as a tool for human rights activists to promote the importance of victims’ participation in reparations programs and for academics and practitioners to broaden the understandings of what are the long-term consequences of serious violations of human rights, and to foster a discussion on victims’ rights to truth and reparations.

Message: As the government of Colombia enters new rounds of peace talks with leftist guerrillas Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), there has been much speculation on the prospects for sustainable peace. ICTJ’s research and comparative experience clearly show that sustainable peace cannot be reached without ensuring justice, accountability, and victims’ rights.

In the words of Maria Camila Moreno, head of ICTJ’s Colombia Office, “Victims are not numbers. They are people with flesh and blood, with great dignity, who have a clear view of the steps that Colombia must take to respond to their right to compensation.”

Content/Style/Voices: This documentary is an intimate portrait of the lives of Yoladis and Petronila. Through moving, vivid footage and intimate photography the viewer gains an insight into the daily life of these two brave women – they opened their doors and their hearts to the film crew.

Voices of Dignity breaks the stereotype of women victims of conflict as passive actors in a transitioning society. Instead, it shows them as active participants and leaders; for their families and communities, they are not victims, but heroes.

“The state must recognize the responsibilities it has towards us,” says Petronila. “We aren’t here because we wanted to be, or because we wanted a change in our lives. We’re here because of what happened to us.”

“I don’t feel poor”, says Yoladis. “Because a poor person is someone who is spiritually dead, who has no initiative. I am a person who has a lot of aspirations.”

Did you know?

Today, over four million people in Colombia are affected by the five decade-long armed conflict (the longest-running conflict in the western hemisphere). Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been victims of mass killings, displacement, forced disappearances, kidnappings, sexual violence, and other serious crimes.

The country is currently undergoing its fourth round of peace talks with the leftist guerrillas, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), and has been demobilizing both paramilitary and guerrilla supporters for over ten years.

Colombia’s Victims’ Law, passed in June 2010, aims to provide comprehensive reparations to victims through individual and collective measures. But due to the large scale of the crimes committed against civilians, implementation is extremely complex.


Join The Conversation

Do you think victims’ rights should be an element of peace negotiations to end Colombia’s civil war? Some argue that peace takes priority over justice in efforts to end long-running conflicts. Would you agree?

Do you think reparations are an appropriate way of recognizing the suffering of victims?


Marta Martinez is in charge of multimedia projects at ICTJ and a producer of “Voices of Dignity.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *