May 5, 2021 – Protests broke out in Colombia last week as demonstrators gathered to speak out against the Iván Duque administration’s controversial Tax Reform Bill. The protests were met with violent repression by security forces, who opened fire on demonstrators in the city of Cali. According to figures compiled by Colombian organizations in six days of protest, at least 1,443 cases of police violence have been reported, including 31 cases of homicidal violence, 10 cases of sexual violence, and 814 arbitrary detentions against demonstrators. In turn, the Ombudsman’s Office has indicated that at least 87 people remain missing in the context of these days of protest in Colombia; two minors are among those reported missing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic tensions in the country, and critics of the plan fear it will negatively affect the financial conditions of thousands of Colombians. Since the pandemic began, poverty has spiked to 42.5 percent in Colombia, with just over 15 percent of Colombians living in extreme poverty–an increase from 9.6 percent in 2019.
The legitimate exercise of protest in the form of the national strike is not limited to the Tax Reform Law. According to statistics compiled by the Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz, since the signing of the Havana Agreement in November 2016, 1,174 human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia. So far in 2021, at least 58 human rights defenders and 22 peace signatories were killed, that is, every 1.5 days a person defending peace, life, or the environment was killed in Colombia. This means that Colombia continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in which to defend human rights and the environment.
EarthRights International’s Executive Director Ka Hsaw Wa issued the following statement in response:
“EarthRights denounces the use of force by the National Police and other State armed forces against protestors. Colombians have a right to protest peacefully, and the Colombian state has failed to protect that right. It has responded with excessive use of force, without regard to the principles of necessity, exceptionality, legality, and proportionality.
“We are alarmed at reports issued by the organization Temblores that reveal that ‘between 2017 and 2019, the National Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine registered a total of 639 people who lost their lives at the hands of agents of Colombian state forces’ with at least 241 cases of sexual violence that were allegedly committed by members of state forces.
“EarthRights calls on the government of Colombia to ensure that the fundamental rights of all Colombians are upheld, to end all human rights violations and investigate current violations, and to reform the country’s policing system. We also call on the Biden administration to take a strong stand against these grave human rights violations and to take specific actions to ensure that no unit of the Colombian security forces implicated in human rights violations, in particular, the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron, receives any support from the U.S. government.”