5.07.2021
COLOMBIA: 650 CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS CALL FOR EXHAUSTIVE INVESTIGATION OF REPRESSION OF PROTESTS AND CALL ON THE IACHR TO ACT

The Americas, May 7, 2021 - The undersigned organizations condemn the excessive use of  force by agents of the Colombian security forces in response to the protests that began on  April 28 across the country. We call on Colombia to immediately cease the arbitrary and  excessive use of force to avoid additional human rights violations against the population.  Additionally, in light of the important role of the international community in this situation, we  call on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to request the agreement  of the Colombian government to visit the country and create an independent expert  mechanism to support the investigation of these events.  

One week after the protests began, due to public discontent over a tax reform proposal, the  economic and health crises in the context of COVID-19 and the increase in massacres and  assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders across the country, the security  forces have responded with a disproportionate use of firearms and military interventions. This  has resulted in dozens of deaths, as well as arbitrary detentions, prosecutions, acts of sexual  violence, disappearances, hundreds of wounded and an untold number of reports of police  violence.  

Likewise, we have seen an increased number of aggressions by security forces against  members of the press and human rights defenders, as well as public statements by  government officials and public figures encouraging the use of lethal weapons. Moreover, this  has not been mitigated by an official government statement publicly rejecting the use of  violence in these protests; rather, the President has authorized the military to participate in  policing of the protests. 

In light of these events, the undersigned organizations recall that the right to protest is  essential in the defense of democracy and human rights. The right to protest is strongly linked  to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to participate in public  life and freedom of association. Protest, as an individual and collective action, has the purpose  of expressing ideas, denouncing violations, revindicating rights, and demanding socially just  policies, among others. It also gives rise to specific State obligations: States must respect,  protect, and guarantee human rights in contexts of protest, which includes guaranteeing prior  or connected activities, principally online activities, such as spontaneous calls to protest on  social media. Moreover, States must facilitate the exercise of the right to protest without  stigmatization. It is especially relevant to recall that the armed forces should not participate in  these situations, as their function and training is not appropriate to this kind of intervention.  

Likewise, we recall that in line with international standards, States are obligated to observe  the principles of legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality in the use of force. The use  of force must have a legitimate objective, be used only when no other means that protect the  right to life and personal integrity exist, and be proportional to the existing danger.  

For these reasons, we call on the Colombian state to immediately cease the use of force and  the use of lethal and less-lethal weapons, to cease the use of sexual violence as punishment  and torture and to respect its international obligations regarding the right to protest, including  the obligation to respect, protect, and facilitate conditions for the exercise of this right, as well 

as ensure the rights of journalists and human rights defenders on the ground. We additionally  call on the State to create spaces for dialogue and exchange with protesters. 

We wish to make clear that the violent repression of protests has occurred repeatedly over at  least the last three years, without an effective State response to overcome impunity for  violations committed during those events, and without a holistic policy on use of force in  protests. The current situation makes clear the institutional weakness and lack of will to  overcome these obstacles.  

For this reason, in light of the fragile institutional situation and the seriousness of the  denounced violations, we call on the IACHR to strongly condemn the violent events and  repression of protest in Colombia and visit the country to verify the seriousness of the  human rights violations, as well as the situation of impunity and lack of investigation of  similar events that have occurred in recent years. 

Likewise, the IACHR must establish an independent mechanism on the ground to  collaborate with national authorities in the investigations; this will contribute to clarify the  events, overcome impunity for these grave violations, and recommend measures for non repetition of these events.  

Finally, we call on all stakeholders and society in general to defend the right to protest, strongly  condemn the disproportionate violence of security forces during the protests, and demand the  relevant reforms, so that the current repression is not repeated.

Read the Full List of Signatories Here