Women's Day: Rosa Elvira Cely (Colombia) | 8M: Women's Day

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Her name was Rosa Elvira Cely: she was murdered in May 2012 and the State could have prevented her death. In 2015, it was her name that helped change the state.

Rosa Elvira Cely was a 35-year-old woman who lived in Bogotá, had a 12-year-old daughter, worked in a street stall during the day and studied at a public school at night to finish her high school. A former classmate from that school murdered her one Thursday morning in a central park in Bogotá. That night, almost miraculously, Cely managed to dial an emergency number. “I am in the National Park. They are raping me,” she yelled at the police, telling them her location. The authorities did not arrive on time. When they found her, she was lying on the ground with hypothermia, injured in various parts of her body and with signs of strangulation. Further analysis revealed that the killer had inserted an object of hers into her anus, possibly a stick, with which she destroyed her uterus and fallopian tubes. Rosa Elvira Cely was taken to a hospital and died after four days in intensive care.

The State not only failed him that night. The national newspaper El Espectador found that Javier Velasco, the murderer, had previously been convicted of killing another woman in 2002 (he only served 19 months in prison); that he had a criminal complaint for sexual abuse of his two stepdaughters and that some authorities had warned of the risk that Velasco would murder a woman again. History, indeed, repeated itself.

"I didn't know anything about gender issues at that time," Adriana Cely, Rosa's sister, who was in charge of her sister's legal process, tells El PAÍS. “I did not have specialized knowledge, but when I face what is happening, I see a lot of negligence on the part of the institutions, I see that the criminal process fails women, and that this also violated my sister. When I begin to perceive that, I begin to train myself in seminars, forums and there I begin to understand. That was when I met some women's organizations that wanted to criminalize femicide in Colombia."

The death of Rosa Elvira Cely was one of many cases of violence, but the cruelty of the murder was such that the news managed to arouse general indignation: there were protest marches, campaigns on social networks, rigorous investigations by the media. Some feminist groups saw in this murder one more example of why the Colombian state had to be changed. It was time, they demanded, to typify the crime of femicide for the first time. “Who was supporting the project was a congresswoman named Gloria Inés Ramírez, but before her there was a whole movement of women who came and asked Congress to approve it,” says Adriana Cely. Although Ramírez was a congressman from a minority leftist party, Polo, the initiative was supported by congressmen from across the ideological spectrum and for this reason it was approved in 2015.

The Rosa Elvira Cely law of 2015 typifies femicide as "causing the death of a woman because of her status as a woman or because of her gender identity." With this, transfeminicides are also included. Those accused of this type of crime could be sentenced to sentences ranging from 250 months (20 years) and up to 600 months (50 years). The law also establishes obligations for judicial institutions to deal with this type of criminal case, and other obligations for educational institutions to identify and prevent gender-based violence.

"It was almost a reparation," says Adriana Cely about the fact that the law bears her sister's name. "For my family it was important: the law has a name, and people with it can remember what happened." Naming violence has been one of the flags of the feminist movement and in this case there were two names that entered the lexicon when the law was approved: that of Rosa Elvira Cely, so as not to forget what happened to her; that of femicide, to name what happens to many more. "It's also like telling my sister that her death was not in vain," says Adriana Cely. "We must manage to name all these women, because these femicides have a name, they are not just another figure."

They are not just one more figure, but the figures are still high, although the State has not managed to unify the total number of femicides in a single database. Yamile Roncacio is the director of the Fundación Femicides Colombia, an organization that tries to cross-reference information on femicide cases that appear in the press with other judicial cases from the Prosecutor's Office: they found at least 237 cases of femicide in 2020, and at least 267 in 2021 .

"In figures, the law itself has not had any effect in these years," says a disappointed Roncacio. “Now what changed? The introduction of the crime of femicide in Colombia was very important because it is the first step in understanding why women are killed. The crime is not created by a punitive populist thing, as some want to insist, but it is a political issue.

What the Rosa Elvira Cely law achieved in seven years, in other words, was a cultural and political change: to introduce a tool to the feminist movement so that the prosecutors, or the judges, or the lawyers one day name those murders as what they really They are: femicides.

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