Many people knew Hector Arboleda Albeidis Buitrago as "The Nurse," but the former fighter had no specialist medical training. What he lacked in knowledge he made up for in butchery: During his time with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Buitrago allegedly performed hundreds of forced abortions on female guerillas, some of them in the final months of pregnancy.
Now, after a protracted diplomatic process, Buitrago is being extradited from Spain to Colombia to stand trial. Forty-one-year-old Builtrago was arrested in Madrid in 2015, and Columbian authorities have worked to bring him home since. Builtrago will face charges of performing forced abortion, as well as torture and rape. The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that the extradition request was approved by Spanish authorities on January 27, 2017, and has now been carried out. It's expected that Buitrago will await his trial in prison.
Colombia is approaching the final throes of a half-century-long armed insurrection involving the Colombian government and the FARC, a Marxist-Leninist guerilla group, alongside the lesser-known National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group. While FARC once controlled an area the size of Switzerland, its fighting force has been rapidly diminished as the Colombian government, aided by the US, pushed back on the fighting throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
As their numbers diminished, maintaining FARC's numbers became more important than ever. And as female FARC members fight side-by-side with men, a pregnant fighter was one less person able to take up arms against the Colombian government.
According to an investigation in Colombian newspaper El Espectador, 1,000 forced abortions take place annually in FARC camps. Human rights organization ABColombia states that "planned forced abortion is the policy of the FARC; the guerilla commanders' partners were the only exceptions to this policy. Some testimonies reveal how women combatants fled the guerillas in order to protect their unborn children." In some cases, Human Rights Watch reports, girls as young as 12 were forced to terminate pregnancies.
Speaking to media in December 2015, former Colombian attorney general Eduardo Montealegre spoke about FARC's abortion policies. "We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the FARC that was based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war," Montealegre told reporters.
As a result of peace talks that began in November 2012, more and more FARC fighters have demobilized and returned to civilian life, and are beginning to talk about their experiences in the camps. In March 2016, Broadly spoke to one of these women. "[In the guerrilla camps] they teach you that a female guerrilla has the same rights as her male colleagues," Camila said. "But at the end of the day, she is still a woman. Being a woman in war is tough."
Speaking to Broadly, Human Rights Watch's Jose Miguel Vivanco set out their response to Buitrago's extradition and forthcoming trial. "The extradition of the so-called 'FARC's nurse' should only be the tip of the iceberg for a serious and exhaustive investigation on the widespread crimes of sexual violence committed to women in the guerrilla ranks," Vivanco argues.
"The prosecution of these abhorrent crimes, which the FARC has long denied, is a litmus test for the credibility of the truth-based transitional justice scheme created as part of the peace talks."