Colombia: Stop brutal attacks and killings of protesters

Colombian authorities must stop brutally repressing protesters and investigate the killings, attacks, and excessive use of force by police officers and military personnel against demonstrators, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS. 

Since April 28, people in Colombia have taken to the streets to demand social justice and oppose a tax reform. Protests take place against a backdrop of growing inequality and violence, sparked by failure to implement the 2016 peace agreements and exacerbated by the pandemic. Protesters have been heavily repressed by police in various cities across the country. The military has been deployed to police the protests, which is only allowed in exceptional cases and on a temporary basis according to international law.  

On Sunday May 2, President of the Republic Iván Duque Márquez withdrew the controversial tax reform bill but protests have continued. Last week DANE (Colombia’s statistics body) announced that poverty increased in 2020, affecting nearly half of the population.  Growing inequality has intensified unrest and violence in the country. 

Serious human rights violations, including disproportionate use of force by the police, violent suppression of protests, the killing and disappearance of protesters, sexual abuse, arbitrary detention and use of firearms have been condemned by civil society organisations in Colombia. 

The use of violence against protesters occurs in a context of heavy stigmatisation against the demonstrators. Civil society in Colombia has condemned national and local government pronouncements against the mobilisation, which compared demonstrators to “vandals” and suggested they are linked to illegal armed groups. 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that while they were on a verification mission on the night of May 3, police opened fire on demonstrators, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people in the city of Cali. Human rights groups accompanying OHCHR were attacked, threatened and shot by police. This was confirmed by the representative of OHCHR in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, who added that none of the members of the mission were injured.

In one week of protests, monitoring organisations have documented hundreds of human rights violations. As of May 3, Colombia’s Ombudsperson had registered at least 19 people killed since the beginning of the protests – with more cases reported by civil society that are yet to be confirmed. Human rights group Defender la Libertad says around 300 people were wounded and almost a thousand protesters detained. Civil society group Temblores also documented nine cases of sexual violence by the public forces and 56 reports of disappearances during the protests. The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) also documented 70 attacks against the media. 

“What we are seeing now is an escalation of violence from the Duque government against social mobilisation, which is becoming more and more lethal. The introduction of ‘military aid’ action has legalised the use of military force to suppress the legitimate right to protest and peacefully demonstrate,” said Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

“CIVICUS reminds the government of Colombia that freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right articulated in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to gather to express collective views is a cornerstone of a free and open society,” said Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America.

“Even if an assembly includes violent participants, human rights law does not permit the authorities to use excessive force against protesters. When using force, enforcement agencies and officers must not use firearms to disperse crowds and cannot indiscriminately use non-lethal weapons such as tear gas,” Gomez Peña continued.

CIVICUS calls on the Colombian government to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration, freedom of expression, security, life and integrity of all people participating in the national strike. 

Colombia is rated REPRESSED by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform measuring the state of civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, in all countries.


Interviews are available with:

  • Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America;
  • Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

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CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists, dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. CIVICUS has over 10,000 members worldwide.



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