Freedom of Expression

Press release R124/21

Colombia: UN and OAS experts condemn crackdown on peaceful protests, urge a thorough and impartial investigation


GENEVA/ WASHINGTON D.C. (14 May 2021) - UN and OAS human rights experts* today condemned the violent crackdown on peaceful protests in Colombia, and called on the Government to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the reported killings, sexual violence, allegations of torture, and cases of  alleged arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

"We are deeply distressed by the excessive and unlawful use of force by police and members of the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Riot Squad) against peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists across Colombia," the experts said.

The experts have received reports of at least 26 killings most of which being young people, 1,876 cases of police violence, 216 cases of injuries including police officers, approximately 168 disappearances, 963 alleged arbitrary detentions, at least 12 cases of sexual violence, as well as allegations of torture. Furthermore, there have been at least 69 assaults against human rights defenders.

On 28 April 2021, Colombian workers, led by an alliance of trade unions and social groups, began to demonstrate peacefully across Colombia against a series of measures taken by the government, including a tax reform bill that would allegedly deepen inequality. Despite an announcement by the presidency on 2 May that the tax reform bill would be dropped, the protests continued. The vast majority of the protests were peaceful but there were also reports of violence.

The experts expressed concern about the military’s involvement in the Government response. They stressed that the military personnel are primarily formed and trained to defend the country against threats of a military nature and should not be used to police assemblies.


The independent experts also expressed alarm at reported violent attacks against the Indigenous Minga in Cali. "We reject any attempt of accusing indigenous peoples of participating with arms in the peaceful protests. Furthermore, we call on the authorities to take measures to prevent the spread of the stigmatization against protestors," the experts said.


There have been reports of a clampdown on the media, including censorship, internet restrictions, as well as attacks and harassment of journalists. "Colombian authorities must respect freedom of expression and the press, and ensure that journalists can cover the news in safety," the experts said.


The experts stressed that the use of potentially lethal force is an extreme measure, which may be resorted to only when strictly necessary to protect life or prevent serious injury from an imminent threat. Less lethal weapons, on the other hand, must be employed only subject to strict requirements of necessity and proportionality, where less harmful measures would be ineffective. They called on the authorities to conduct thorough, prompt, effective, impartial and independent investigations into all alleged human rights violations, to hold those responsible to account, and to ensure adequate reparations, including compensation, to victims and their families. They also urged the Government to disclose the whereabouts of all detained persons.


The experts, who have had recent engagement with the Government, urged concerned authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly during future protests and to ensure that force is used only in compliance with the principles of precaution, necessity and proportionality." We will continue monitoring developments closely" the experts concluded.



*The Experts:


Mr. Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;  Ms.Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms.Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteuron the situation of Human Rights Defenders; The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Chair), Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius, (Vice- Chair), Ms. Aua Balde, Mr. Bernard Duhaime and Mr. Luciano Hazan; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair), Ms.Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr.Mumba Malila, Ms.Miriam Estrada-Castillo and Ms. Priya Gopalan; Mr. Morris Tidball-BinzSpecial Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and Mr. Francisco Cali Tzay. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.


Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.


Mr. Pedro Vaca Villarreal Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS is the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system. 



Ms. Soledad García Muñoz is the IACHR Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environment Rights. The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environment Rights was created by the IACHR to guide, develop and deepen its work to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas, taking into account the interdependent and indivisible nature of all human rights.