Systematic Attacks on Students Involved in Anti-Privatisation Protests

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Students at the University of Tolima in central Colombia have released a statement documenting human rights abuses, including murder, that they have been subjected to in recent years as a result of their campaign against the privatisation of the state education system.

The press release by the students also mentions attacks on academic staff and university workers and says that those responsible are the army, police and paramilitaries. The students describe the harassment and attacks that they've been subjected to as 'systematic' and say that they continue to receive regular death threats in an attempt to silence them.

The below, taken direct from the University of Tolima student press release, summarises some of the attacks in recent years:

  • 30th January 2008 paramilitaries operating in a unit known as the 'Black Eagles', appear on campus and distribute death threats aimed at student groups. An e-mail arrives at student groups threatening to eliminate student activists.
  • December 2007 Students who organised a recent protest at budget cuts at the university receive death threats from the paramilitaries.
  • 25th October 2006 A unionised worker at the university receives a death threat.
  • 23rd October 2006 Men claiming to be from the special GAULA unit of the police threaten a university worker with a gun and enter the campus.
  • 8th December 2005 9 students are detained by police and accused of being guerrilla supporters. They were imprisoned for almost 2 years before the Attorney General's Office exonerated them.
  • 7th September 2005 The homes of three student leaders are raided by the security forces.
  • 18th May 2005 During a protest by students of medicine, Walter Duarte Arias, the leader of the protest has his home raided by the security forces. His girlfriend, Yolanda Cristina Rojas, is detained. On the same day the home of German Rivas, an activist in the university workers' trade union, SINTRAUNICOL, is also raided.
  • March 2004 Various students who sit on the Student welfare Committee receive paramilitary death threats.
  • During the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004, students, teachers and university workers receive a series of death threats.
  • October 2002 Paramilitaries from the 'Bloque Tolima' group issue three university workers' union leaders with death threats. They then proceed to threaten the entire union leadership.
  • 11th October 2001 Paramilitaries murder student union leader and human rights activist Camilo Alberto Zuluaga.
  • 7th September 1997 Soldiers assassinate Norma Patricia Galeano, a student of social sciences at the university.
  • It is clear from this list that the violence and intimidation imposed on the university community are not just 'isolated incidents' as is often claimed by the Colombian authorities. The paramilitaries, although they have changed their name, continue to act with complete impunity in order to silence any form of social protest or opposition. The students at the University of Tolima have stated that they hold the Colombian authorities responsible for the wellbeing of all students, teachers and workers at the university.

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