Since 28 April, thousands of people have been protesting across Colombia as part of a national strike (“Paro Nacional”) called by several social movements. They are calling for the withdrawal of a tax reform proposal and for better social and economic measures. The authorities have responded by deploying the military, police forces, and the anti-riot squad (ESMAD) to several cities and by publicly stigmatizing protestors. The use of excessive force to repress protests has caused 31 deaths, 216 injuries, and 814 arbitrary detentions. There are also reports of acts of sexual violence and 87 people have been disappeared in the context of the protests. We call on the President to guarantee the people’s right to peaceful assembly.
Please ask the President to:
- Give a clear order to stop the repression and condemn the violent response from law enforcement officers and the military;
- End the stigmatization of social protest;
- Ensure that all human rights violations taking place in the context of the recent protests are fully investigated.
Mr. Iván Duque
President of the Republic of Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8 No. 7-26
Salutation : Dear President Duque
Jorge Alberto Julian Londoño de la Cuesta
Ambassador for the Republic of Colombia
360 Albert Street, Suite 1002
Ottawa, ON K1R 7X7
Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
A national strike (“Paro Nacional”) started on 28 April, triggered by a tax reform proposal from President Duque aimed at increasing tax revenues to counter the economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Paro Nacional” also reiterated several demands from Colombian civil society expressed in similar protests in late 2019, such as measures to stop the killing of social leaders, the fulfillment of the Peace Accords, establishing an accessible, safe, and comprehensive health system, and thorough police reform, among others.
On 1 May, the president announced the deployment of the military in “urban centers where there is a high risk to the integrity of citizens”, and stated: “I want to issue a clear warning to those who, through violence, vandalism and terrorism, seek to intimidate society and think that by this mechanism they will break the institutions.” On 5 May, the president also said “the vandalism threat we face consists of a criminal organization that hides behind legitimate social aspirations” and added “the extreme vandalism and urban terrorism we are observing is financed and articulated by drug trafficking mafias.”
Since the beginning of the “Paro Nacional,” several protests in key cities like Bogotá, Cali, and Pasto have been met by excessive use of force, including armed and lethal force, resulting in 31 persons killed, 216 injured and 814 arbitrarily detained. There are also concerning reports of acts of sexual violence and people disappeared.
Amnesty International verified videos where the Colombian police used lethal weaponry and indiscriminately used less lethal weapons such as tear gas, water cannons, and other materials against protestors in several parts of the country.
This pattern of repression of this year’s “Paro Nacional” mimics that seen in the protests in 2019, when several people were killed after been shot with tear gas-grenades and firearms with live and potentially lethal ammunition. It also mimics the repression in late 2020 when the National Police reported that 403 people were injured, among them 194 members of the security forces, and 10 people were killed in the context of protests in response to the lawyer Javier Ordonez’s killing by the police.
Several investigations for crimes committed by law enforcement officers in the context of protests are on their way, but human rights violations committed by police are often investigated under military jurisdiction, such as the case of Dilan Cruz killed during a protest in 2019, impeding tangible progress towards truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition to the victims, their relatives, and society.
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