Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Colombia: Status of the application and enforcement of the law on domestic violence (Law 294 of 1996)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 11 July 2001
Citation / Document Symbol COL37210.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Colombia: Status of the application and enforcement of the law on domestic violence (Law 294 of 1996), 11 July 2001, COL37210.E, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Further to the information on the subject provided in Responses COL33769.E of 8 February 2000 and COL31313.E of 5 March 1999, Country Reports 2000 provides information on domestic violence and related legislation (Feb. 2001, Section 5) as well as the general viability, access to, and operation of the judicial system in Colombia (ibid., Section 1.e).

The 1999 Report of the Organization of American States Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia includes an extensive discussion on the issue of domestic violence in Chapter XII, Sections 40 through 46. A copy of the report in electronic form is available at Regional Documentation Centres and on the Website indicated in the Reference list below. The report also discusses related issues in earlier sections of the chapter, and includes additional references to domestic violence under Chapter XIII on the Rights of the Child.

In specific reference to the application and effectiveness of Law 294, the report states in Sections 42 through 44:

42. The Commission notes the adoption of this law is a positive step towards the observance, in Colombia, of the human rights that tend to be undermined by domestic violence. The Colombian State was consulted by the Commission's Special Rapporteur for Women's Rights regarding the practical obstacles to obtaining access to the protection afforded by the law. In its response, the State first clarified that Law 294/96 is still new legislation. The State then stated:

[I]t is important to highlight the efforts that the Government entities are making to implement the law to make accessible certain services, such as providing therapeutic support for the assailants and shelters to serve as temporary homes to the victims of violence, and instituting the departmental and municipal Family Protection Councils.

43. Despite legislative progress and the efforts of the public and private sectors, the official figures reveal that violence against women in Colombia continues to occur at alarming levels, with a tendency to worsen. Such is the case that, in 1993, the Institute of Legal Medicine of Colombia issued reports on 15,503 cases of non-fatal injuries due to family violence, reported in the departmental capitals. This figure climbed to 19,706 in 1994, and 23,288 in 1995.

44. In Colombia, as in many other countries, most acts of domestic violence are still considered to be a private matter. Consequently, they are not reported, and it is not possible to determine the full extent of the problem. According to information received by the Commission, less than half of battered women seek assistance, and only 9% of the women lodge a complaint with the authorities. The Commission also received information according to which neither the State nor society is sufficiently sensitive to the need to tackle the problem of domestic violence. Impunity for the perpetrators of acts of domestic violence against women is practically 100%.

The full text of the report includes explanations on footnotes to the above and other sections of the document.

The Haz Paz (Make Peace, also mentioned in Country Reports) presidential program to address domestic or intra-family violence states that 200 cases are reported every day, or eight every hour, and the majority of these (approximately 56 percent) are spousal violence, and 93 percent of victims are female (Haz Paz 2000a).

The August 1997 report on Colombia to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reports on the issue of domestic violence, legislation and law enforcement. Although the report notes continued and significant advances in state efforts and legislation, it also notes "enormous gaps" between the establishment and the functioning of the " machinery to monitor and control the application of the laws" and a "lack of effective machinery for enforcement of court decisions, owing to the poor training of police and court personnel in the regulations and procedures applicable to family disputes and conciliation" (CEDAW 28 Aug. 1997).

In its specific comments on Law 294, the report states:

Among the measures contained in the Law special attention must be drawn, in view of their impact in favour of women, to those providing judges with the means of protecting women, ordering the aggressor to move out of the home which he shares with the victim, and characterizing sexual violence between spouses as a crime. However, it is regrettable that the Law establishes a less severe penalty for sexual violence between spouses (six months to two years imprisonment) in comparison with the penalties provided in the Criminal Code for the crimes of sexual intercourse with violence (two to eight years imprisonment) and other sexual acts with violence (one to three years) (ibid.).

On access to legal help, the report adds:

Of all the battered women, 27 per cent had reported the facts to the authorities; this figure is somewhat higher than the one found five years earlier in the 1990 survey, when only 11 per cent of the women victims of physical violence had reported it. Ten per cent visited a police station, eight per cent a family commission, and five per cent the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF).

The reasons given by the women for not reporting the domestic violence included: belief that they could solve the problem without any help (31%), fear of retaliation (22%), and belief that the husband would change (17%) (ibid.).

The document refers to the Family Commissions, including their intended role in addressing domestic violence and their limitations. The document also describes the tutela legal protection recourse issued by a Constitutional Court and how this can be applied to cases of domestic violence, and later describes it as a "a fairly effective and available means of protection against violence in the family" (ibid.). The report states that "the Constitutional Court has established important precedents for the protection of the human rights of women, especially with respect to conjugal and other domestic violence" (ibid.).

However, Country Reports 2000 states that the court systems in Colombia have difficulty handling the total number of cases pending, pointing out that civilian courts have a backlog of more than three million cases, while "approximately 223,000 writs for protection of fundamental rights ("tutelas") were before the Constitutional Court for its legally mandated review" (Feb. 2001, Section 1.e).

The CEDAW report also describes the following difficulties in addressing domestic violence; among them: "the inability of the State to ensure application of the legislation punishing domestic violence, and the limited conception of the scope of possible action, which makes it difficult to tackle the problem in a comprehensive manner," and "the shortage of human and financial resources preventing the proper functioning of the family commissions" (28 Aug. 1997).

The full text of the CEDAW report on Colombia can be found on the United Nations Website indicated in the Reference list below. The document also contains information on domestic violence in the sections "Domestic Violence and Health" and "Institutional Programmes and Progress," among others.

Please note that Law 575 of February 2000 modified some articles of Law 294 (Diario Oficial 11 Feb. 2000). The newer law stipulates, among other things, a range of possible measures that an authority can issue to address a case of domestic violence, from penalties or treatment for an agressor to protection measures for a victim (ibid.). The full text of Law 575 in Spanish can be found in the electronic edition of the official publication of the law cited in the Reference list below. The Haz Paz program states that one of the key changes established by Law 575 is that Family Commissions can legally attend to cases of domestic violence and issue protection measures (Haz Paz 2000b). The ICBF adds that in the absence of a Family Commission, a Justice of the Peace or a municipal officer known as Promiscuo Municipal can legally address a case of domestic violence (ICBF 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), United Nations. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – Fourth Periodic Reports of States Parties: Colombia. [Accessed 10 July 2001]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000. February 2001. "Colombia." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State. [Accessed 9 July 2001]

Diario Oficial [Bogota]. 11 February 2000. "Ley 575 de 2000 (febrero 9) por medio de la cual se reforma parcialmente la Ley 294 de 1996." [Accessed 11 July 2001]

Haz Paz, Bogota. 2000a. "Violencia Intrafamiliar." [Accessed 10 July 2001]

_____. 2000b. "Desarrollos Jurídicos y Normativos." [Accessed 11 July 2001]

Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), Bogota. 2000. "Desarrollo Normativo." [Accessed 11 July 2001]

Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia. 1999. Washington, DC: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States. [Accessed 9 July 2001]

Additional Sources Consulted

Fempress [Santiago].

IRB Databases.

Latin American Regional Reports: Andean Group Report [London]. 1999-2001.

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 1999-2001.


Internet Websites and Search Engines.

Note: This list is not exhaustive. Subject and country-specific publications available at the Resource Centre are not included.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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