After months of massive demonstrations across Colombia and widespread violent dispersal of protests by security forces, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is deeply concerned about the Colombian Government’s response to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) report and recommendations following this international institution’s visit to the country on June 8 and 9, 2021.
After the visit during which the IACHR met with representatives of the Colombian government and civil society, the first of the IACHR’s 41 recommendations stressed the need for genuine national dialogue that is representative of different populations and sectors of the country, especially those communities that have been most affected by historical, social and structural discrimination. The IACHR went on to make recommendations to prevent excessive and disproportionate use of force during protests, combat gender-based violence and violence against ethno-racial minorities, prevent disappearances, protect journalists covering protests and to use the regular justice system in place of military courts for violations of human rights.
RFK Human Rights and other amici curiae argued for many of these protections to guarantee the right to protest in amicus briefs to the Colombian Constitutional Court in a protective action regarding social protest and the Dilan Cruz case in the past year.
While the Ministry of Foreign Relations agreed partially with the IACHR’s recommendations, in its official response, it goes on to defend many of the practices and actions that RFK Human Rights and hundreds of other human rights organizations criticized as violative of human rights by claiming instability “derived from the economic, employment and public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The statement proceeded to reject the IACHR’s findings on the broad use of excessive and disproportionate force to suppress protests and the scope of involvement of the anti-riot squad, ESMAD, which has been responsible for some of the most brutal and emblematic incidents of violence during the protests. The Government also rejected outright that excessive force had been targeted at populations in a situation of vulnerability and that blockades, which it had recently banned in Decree 003/2021, constitute a legitimate and protected form of collective action.
Moreover, the Colombian government rejected the IACHR’s announcement of its decision to create a Special Follow-up Mechanism on Human Rights Matters for Colombia, alleging the sufficiency of Colombia’s own laws and internal agencies. In that same vein, the government’s assertion that the IACHR “has no faculties” to address the situation of the implementation of a decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the 2016 Peace Agreement is profoundly worrisome. The IACHR has clear authority to monitor the human rights situation in all Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS), including giving particular attention to the populations, communities, and groups that have historically been the targets of discrimination and social exclusion.
Times of crisis can not be used as an excuse to permit and facilitate human rights violations.
Moreover, as we expressed to the Colombian Constitutional Court earlier this year, the right to protest plays an important role in the exercise of other human rights and is a keystone of democracy. The IACHR’s recommendations are all based on international human rights standards that Colombia is duty-bound to respect. We strongly urge Colombia to implement all of the IACHR’s recommendations and fulfill its international obligations to ensure that human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, may be exercised by all.