The worst has happened for prisoners trapped in Colombia’s inhumane and heavily overcrowded prison system. At least 800 prisoners have contracted the Covid-19 virus, and three have died from it.
The very worst situation is in Villavicencio prison where, as of 8th May there are 772 cases out of a population of 1,700 inmates and 300 guards. See here harrowing footage of sick prisoners inside the crowded Villavicencio jail.
The same challenges of intense overcrowding and lack of protection face inmates in all ten prisons of a system designed for 80 thousand but actually operating with over 120 thousand prisoners, 43 thousand over capacity.
On 8th May 76 new Covid-19 cases were reported. See here prisoners announcing that they will go on hunger strike to demand protection or release.
Once again in Colombia, the current massacre was foretold, only this time with a pre-emptive massacre. The government has taken a heavy authoritarian hand rather than protect human rights. When on 21st March prisoners at La Modelo jail in Bogotá protested demanding protection from the virus, the government sent in armed guards, the police and army in a barrage that killed 23 prisoners.
The far right government of Iván Duque issued a decree on 14th April promising to temporarily release 4 thousand prisoners to ease the conditions, but that is less than a tenth of what is required even under normal operating conditions, let alone the emergency requirements.
One category that has not been allowed out are the political prisoners. Worse, the government is not honouring the Peace Agreement it made in 2016 with the FARC guerrilla movement, that included the promise to release imprisoned former combatants who also sign the peace accord. The Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP) has accredited 179 people in this category, of which four are women, and nine suffer from terminal/chronic illnesses. Yet the government has still not complied with its own commitment, and not even included political prisoners in its emergency decree.
On 28th April, the Senate’s First Commission proposed a law to modify president Duque ‘s decree. The proposed law includes political prisoners in the humanitarian release, as well as calling for protections for other vulnerable groups.
Senator Ivan Cepeda and FCSPP, the committee in support of all political prisoners, have written to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights demanding action on the grounds that the government is abusing the prisoners’ constitutional rights.
These urgent concerns have made no progress so far with a government that presides over an undeclared war on social movements, and former guerrillas even though they have committed to peace. 95 social leaders and eight members of their immediate families have been assassinated in the first four months of 2020, as have 24 former FARC combatants who have signed the agreement.