The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Monday ruled that the state of Colombia bears responsibility for the ordeal of a female journalist who was kidnapped, raped and then tortured in 2000 by paramilitaries.
Jineth Bedoya was working for the El Espectador newspaper at the time, investigating a weapons smuggling ring, when she was abducted and assaulted by far-right militia members.
The paramilitaries, some of whom have since been convicted, were among the forces that fought left-wing guerrillas in Colombia until their official demobilisation in 2006.
The acts against Bedoya "could not have been carried out without the consent and collaboration of the [Colombian] State, or at least with its tolerance," the court, an autonomous part of the Organisation of American States (OAS), ruled on Monday.
Bedoya, now 47, hailed the decision.
"October 18, 2021, goes down in history as the day when a struggle that began with an individual crime has led to the vindication of the rights of thousands of women who have been victims of sexual violence and of women journalists who leave a part of their lives in their work," tweeted Bedoya, who was awarded the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize last year.
Colombia "fully accepts the decision," President Iván Duque tweeted.
"I will always condemn any violent act against women and journalists," he said. "The sentence should serve as a guide to actions that can be implemented to prevent anything like this from happening again."
Bedoya had implicated agents of the state, in particular an "influential" general of the police force, in the attack, which started when she was kidnapped in front of La Modelo prison in the capital Bogota.
The paramilitaries tortured and raped her for 16 hours before leaving her lying naked by the side of a road.
Bedoya has said she has suffered two decades of "persecution, intimidation and constant threats."
The Colombian state was guilty of "failing to investigate the threats that had been received" by Bedoya, according to a statement released by the judicial wing of the OAS, headquartered in Costa Rica.
The failure to investigate violated Bedoya's "rights to judicial guarantees, judicial protection and equality before the law," the court ruled.
It also ordered Colombia to "punish those remaining responsible for the acts of violence," and called for other measures including the creation of a training programme for public officials and security forces focused on violence against women.
It made no reference, however, to the closure of La Modelo – one of Bedoya's main requests.
The Colombian state had apologised to the journalist before the same court in March, when it also ordered the government to immediately ensure the safety of Bedoya and her mother, who had both been victims of threats – including a 1999 attack on both that the state failed to investigate.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had referred the case to the court in 2019. Its decisions are definitive and unappealable.
The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) welcomed Monday's "dignified" decision for a woman who "has tirelessly sought justice for more than 20 years."
And the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called it "a historic acknowledgment of the deadly dangers that Colombia's female journalists face."
"The Colombian government has for years refused to acknowledge or make amends for its responsibility in this case," it said in a statement.