International civil society organisations urge the Colombian government to guarantee the right to peaceful public assembly and demonstration, which is enshrined in the Political Constitution of Colombia, and to protect the lives of those who exercise it

 

[Bogotá, 3 May 2021] The peaceful marches that have been carried out by Colombian citizens in many cities and municipalities of the country, which began on 28 April within the framework of the National strike, are part of their legitimate right to defend human rights, and the right to public assembly and demonstration, as enshrined in article 37 of Colombia’s Political Constitution [1]. In this sense, the excessive use of force by some members of law enforcement is unacceptable.

According to the figures published by Campaña Defender La Libertad: Asunto de Todas (Defend Freedom Campaign: Everyone's Business) [2], specifically within their fourth newsletter [3], 105 people were injured between 28 April and 30 April—whereby six people suffered from eye injuries and four were shot. Four people were murdered, apparently three of whom were minors, and there were more than 150 arbitrary detentions, including the arrests of several people under 18 years of age. There were more than 232 registered physical assaults, nine raids in Cali and Bogotá, three acts of sexual violence against women in Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín, two of them by ESMAD officials and one by a forensic medical examiner. In addition, acts of torture have been reported, including beatings, threats, electric shocks. Protesters have also reported obstructions of the right to information and several people have been reported missing.

We are concerned by the complaints concerning the National Army’s intervention in the protests, which occurred in eastern Antioquia, the municipality of Bello (Antioquia), and Cali. According to the Minister of Defense’s statements, 300 soldiers were deployed in reaction to the demonstrations [4]. Colombia’s president also made an announcement to militarise the cities [5].

As international civil society organisations, we ask the Colombian State to urgently adopt measures to protect life, personal integrity, personal freedom, due process, freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to assembly, the right to participation, and other rights and fundamental principles that are recognised in the American Convention on Human Rights. These rights are at serious risk due to the events described above.

Additionally, according to the DANE [6], 21 million people in Colombia (42.5% of the national population) are living under the poverty line and are facing daily difficulties in accessing food [7]. This creates the conditions for a hunger crisis. In the context of the current public health crisis, the Colombian State should take additional measures to protect their rights.

As international civil society organisations we ask that:

  • The diplomatic community and the United Nations implore the Colombian State to provide sufficient guarantees for the exercise of right to protest as well as promote dialogue in order to take constructive actions towards overcoming the current human rights crisis affecting the entire country.
  • Law enforcement carry out its constitutional role of providing security so that the discontented and desperate majority are able to peacefully protest their suffering from poverty, disease and conflict conditions.
  • Political parties, unions, and churches strengthen their actions to summon the government to take measures in favour of the dignity of life and to refrain from issuing stigmatising statements [8].
  • Minorities who attempt violent actions as a vehicle of protest to create confusion and delegitimise legitimate protest, stop their actions, including those carried out through social networks. Violence generates violence. This lesson that we have suffered from over the course of many years of conflict must be learned.

We ask the President to take all necessary measures to stop the bloodbath that Colombia is experiencing, and in that regard, order an immediate stop to the armed repression of the peaceful protesters and the militarisation of cities, which have cost the lives of many, particularly young people, in Colombia. We urge the President to enable scenarios for peaceful consultation with dissatisfied Colombian citizens. The withdrawal of the tax reform and the call to agree on a new proposal is a step in the right direction.

As international civil society organisations, we continue to be “Alert for a Colombia at Peace” and we reiterate our commitment to a peaceful solution to the conflict in Colombia.

 

Download the PDF in English or the original joint statement in Spanish.

For more information, please contact: cooppaz2016 [at] gmail.com

 
[1] Article 37 states that anyone can meet and demonstrate publicly and peacefully. Only the law may expressly establish cases in which the exercise of this right may be limited.
[2] The campaign brings together different human rights organisations in an attempt to monitor and ensure human rights in social protests.
[4] Ministry of Defense, twitter account @mindefensa, April 29, 2021. Available at: https://bit.ly/3ugdfzK
[6] National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). https://www.portafolio.co/economia/dane-revela-impacto-de-la-pandemia-en-la-pobreza-del-pais-551470   
[7] Of the total, 3.5. million became impoverished in 2020.
[8] Evidenced by a tweet published by former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, which stated: “Let us support the right of soldiers and police to use their weapons to defend their integrity and to defend people and property from the criminal act of vandal terrorism."