Press Release

IACHR Concerned about Repression by Government Agents in Colombia, Rejects All Forms of Violence in the Context of Protests

December 2, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about both acts of repression committed by agents of the Colombian State and other acts of violence that have happened in the context of the General Strike that started on November 21 in various parts of Colombia. The IACHR urges the Colombian State to deepen effective, inclusive dialogue to address the legitimate demands of the people, and to ensure the right to protest in accordance with inter-American standards.

Based on publicly available reports, a series of rallies were launched from November 21 in various areas around the country to demand greater access to good-quality education and other social rights, compliance with the Colombian Peace Agreements, and an end to insecurity and to the increasingly common murders of social and indigenous leaders, among other things. The Commission believes these rallies have largely been peaceful and involved broad participation. However, the IACHR has also been informed about the disproportionate use of force by officers of the Mobile Riot Squad (ESMAD, by its Spanish acronym), about arbitrary arrests of demonstrators, and about acts of violence.

In the context of these protests, about 25 people are believed to have been injured and 831 to have been detained over the period November 21–24, according to publicly available reports. The IACHR warns about the excessive use of force on November 22 in the Suba area and on Plaza Bolívar, in Bogotá, when ESMAD officers allegedly used tear gas to disperse demonstrators. The Commission was informed that, on November 23, in the context of a pot-banging protest in the city of Bogotá, ESMAD officers again dispersed demonstrators using tear gas. As a consequence of this disproportionate use of force, teenager Dylan Cruz was hit in the head by one of these projectiles and was taken to hospital. The Commission knows that Dylan Cruz died on November 25. According to information provided by the Colombian State, the relevant authorities are conducting a swift and impartial investigation into these terrible events. The Commission appreciates this information and highlights that these investigations must comply with human rights standards and punish whoever is responsible for such events.

The Commission was also informed about acts of vandalism and riots caused by masked individuals in various areas around the country. According to information provided by the State, three people died as a consequence of these riots. A curfew was imposed in the cities of Cali and Bogotá. The Commission rejects these actions and stresses that social protest is legitimate as long as it is peaceful. The IACHR stresses that States need to act based on the legality of all public protests and demonstrations. The fact that some groups or individuals exercise violence during a demonstration does not per se make that whole protest violent, and it does not warrant actions by the security forces to disperse protesters using force or to carry out mass arrests.

The Commission further condemns acts of violence that have killed or injured people, and it urges the authorities to promptly and comprehensively investigate all allegations of violence and to punish anyone responsible for that violence. This is true both for allegations of an excessive use of force by officers of the police and other law enforcement agencies and for attacks and plunder committed by private individuals.

The Colombian Government informed the Inter-American Commission about the national dialogue launched by Colombian President Iván Duque to establish and satisfy demonstrators’ aspirations and reasons to protest. The Commission notes and welcomes this initiative and highlights the importance of dialogue to specifically address the legitimate demands of the people peacefully and with the utmost respect for human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 313/19