Colombia: Three Weeks of Nationwide Protests Unveil Critical Human Rights Juncture for the Country

Photo: Ricardo Arce/Unsplash.

Civil Rights Defenders calls on the Colombian government to increase efforts to de-escalate violence, guarantee the right to peaceful protest and work with human rights organisations to prevent further violations. 

After 22 days of nationwide protests, civil society organisations have reported escalating numbers of human rights violations against demonstrators. Colombian organisations such as Indepaz and Temblores have documented growing numbers of violence: 43 killings allegedly perpetrated by state security forces, 18 cases of sexual violence against detained protesters, and 2387 cases of police violence, which have led to at least 33 people suffering from wounds compromising their eyesight. Even though social media platforms are swarmed by videos documenting excessive use of force by police, there is still very little accountability of the state’s responsibility in the escalating violence. 

Despite numerous calls by international human rights mechanisms condemning the crackdown on peaceful protests, including a request by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) to visit the country, president Iván Duque announced the full display of police and military forces to clear roads blocked by protesters. Human rights defenders fear this measure could lead to further human rights violations against civilians in Cali, Popayán and Bogotá, some of the cities with the highest rates of violence and detentions by state forces.  

Social unrest started after the government unveiled a proposed tax reform to address the country’s covid-related economic crisis. Critics of the reform believed the plan would amount to further fiscal burdens against middle- and low-income households. Even though the government withdrew the reform, protests escalated quickly before the excessive use of violence against protesters, many of which are students, rural, afro-Colombian and indigenous groups.  

Civil Rights Defenders is concerned that the authorities’ measures fall short of securing accountability for state forces’ violence.  

We call for the government to increase efforts to de-escalate violence, guarantee the right to peaceful protest and work with human rights organisations, including the IACHR, to prevent further violations.  

We also call on the EU to initiate a broad dialogue with the human rights organisations in Colombia on this recent human rights crisis and integrate the conclusions of this dialogue in its ongoing human rights dialogue with the Colombian government. 

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