For the first time, the Constitutional Court in the South American state of Colombia has acknowledged the rights of same sex partners.

Although homosexual relationships were decriminalised in the 1980s, serious human rights violations against LGBT people are commonplace.

The country has been the scene of social unrest for decades, with powerful drug cartels challenging the authority of the government.

A lawsuit filed by gay and lesbian rights organisation Colombia Diversa and members of the School of Law from the Universidad de los Andes led to the court ruling.

They estimate over 100,000 couples will be affected by the decision.

The court decided that a same sex couple who had been living together for two years have the same property rights as straight couples.

Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa, said:

“This is not only an advance for equality between heterosexuals and gay men and lesbians, but also a great achievement for the public interest, especially for all who are committed to creating a more fair and open society in which differences are respected.”

The war-torn country of 45 million people is heavily Roman Catholic, and many armed militias involve themselves in “social cleansing,” targeting LGBT people.

The police have also been accused on numerous occasions for abuse of authority and mistreatment of gay people.

Social fears around HIV and AIDS and the perceived moral influence of gays and lesbians on children allow paramilitary and guerrilla forces to target LGBT people as part of their desire to control territory.

Gays and lesbians in cities are also targeted by gangs who routinely rob and blackmail them and attack gay venues.

However, since the election of Álvaro Uribe Vélez in 2002, the general security situation has improved somewhat. The country’s parliament are currently considering whether to legalise civil unions.

It is still not clear how far the court’s decision will go in recognising same-sex partner rights.

Last year 10 South American countries, including Colombia, expressed approval and agreed to action with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity being included within the human rights agenda.

The sexual orientation acknowledgment was part of a Mercosur meeting held in Brasilia at the end of August.

Mercosur is a customs union between 10 South American countries.