Justice for Colombia condemns horrific levels of police violence against protesters

London, 4 May 2021

Justice for Colombia condemns horrific levels of police violence against protesters

Justice for Colombia condemns in the strongest possible terms the extreme violence which has been used by the Colombian police during protests that have taken place over recent days. While figures vary and will become clearer in the days to come, national human rights observers report at least 18 people killed, as well as 23 cases of eye injuries caused by police deliberately shooting projectiles at people’s faces. There have also been 9 reports of sexual violence and over 700 arbitrary arrests. The whereabouts of many young people is still unknown after having been taken away by the police.

Multiple videos have shown the Colombian police attacking protesters with a completely disproportionate use of force, including opening fire, isolated protesters being beaten up by several police at the same time, and gas canisters being shot into crowds at head level. In a statement the Office for the UN Human Commissioner for Human Rights spoke of their “alarm” while the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association called on the Colombian forces to stop using “excessive force”.

Protests began on Wednesday 28 April in response to a proposed tax reform but protesters have also been calling for an end to the human rights crisis and for greater implementation of the peace agreement.

The response of the Colombian government has further endangered the lives of protesters. The Defence Minister has repeatedly stigmatised the protests by referring to the involvement of armed groups and the military was also ordered onto the streets by President Duque. The former president Alvaro Uribe, who remains an extremely influential political figure and ally of Duque, sent a tweet stating his support for the military and police using their firearms – Twitter later enforced the tweet’s removal.

The use of abhorrent violence committed by agents of the Colombian state has already been witnessed under the government of President Duque during protests in November 2019 and September 2020.  For Justice for Colombia these are not isolated incidents but reflect a systematic approach to policing protests which sees protesters criminalised and attacked and human rights completely disregarded.

This is a crisis which needs an international response. All supporters of human rights and peace in Colombia need to speak out to condemn the police violence and to call on the Colombian government to ensure the right to protest is fully guaranteed.