This dossier provides a snapshot of the human rights violations that have taken place against participants in the Colombian National Strike (Paro Nacional) that started on 28 April 2021.
The strike began in response to a hugely unpopular tax reform that would see ordinary people paying for the COVID-19 recovery but has since become a mass movement expressing deep frustration and discontent over mass poverty and social exclusion of vast sectors of society. Recent figures indicate that 42.5% of Colombians live in poverty and over 15% are experiencing extreme poverty. Even though the tax reform bill has been formally withdrawn following a vote in Congress, Colombians recognise the country is in the midst of a deep social and political crisis requiring immediate and structural solutions.
One month into the strike…
As of 28 May 2021, human rights organisations have reported that at least 60 people have been killed, at least 43 of those allegedly by police forces, with many more injured. There are 46 reported cases of sexual violence, over 1,388 cases of arbitrary arrests and 46 cases of eye injuries, 165 cases of shootings by the police and 2 police officers killed.
These harrowing numbers come amidst widespread reports of the use of live firearms against unarmed civilians, and indiscriminate violence against citizens participating in protests – with acts of vandalism from unidentified individuals being used as justification for massive military deployment in Colombian cities, especially in Cali.
The dossier covers a range of human rights abuses perpetrated against protestors, but especially against those young people in the Primero Linea (Front Line) of the demonstrations.
For example, since 14 May, the first accounts of the existence of mass graves in the rural areas of the municipalities of Buga and Yumbo (Valle del Cauca Department), where the bodies of many young people from Cali were being taken according to the report published by Equipo Juridico y Humanitario N21 on the 23rd of May. The report also details the full names of 120 people reported missing.
The UK’s Responsibility
We call on the UK government, the European Parliament, UN Human Rights Office, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the International community and multilateral organisations with an interest in Colombia’s peace and sustainable development, to put pressure upon the Colombian government to stop the human rights violations taking place during the national strike that began on 28 April.
As well as the concern for the mass violations of human rights, we believe that the current crisis should be of particular concern to the British parliament. The UK has significant economic interests in Colombia, and UK multinational companies operating in the country have been major beneficiaries of previous tax reform by the government of President Duque in 2019, while many stand accused of human rights abuses associated with their operations.
Furthermore, a penholder of the Colombian peace process at the UN Security Council and a consistent supporter of the peace deal, the UK government plays a particularly important role in ensuring that the Colombian government upholds its commitment to basic human rights and the rule of law, two key pillars of the peace agreement.
We are particularly concerned about the training that the UK’s College of Policing has been providing to the Colombian police force over the past three years. This training is being provided despite the appalling human rights record of the Colombian police force, despite the country being one of 30 “human rights priority countries” identified by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The College has refused to provide any details about the nature of this training the number of police officers involved, the cost, or where it took place.
Given the mass human rights abuses being committed by Colombian security forces, and in particular the police, it is urgent that the UK government releases details of the training, including how it is in line with the protection of human rights in Colombia. We call or the UK Government to:
- Publicly condemn abuses carried out by the Colombian police and express public support for human rights in Colombian and the work of human rights organisations.
- Call on the Colombian government to end the human rights violations taking place in the context of the national strike, protect the right to protest, and engage in genuine social dialogue with al social and political sectors.
- Provide details of the training being provided to Colombian poke forces and relay our concern about the implications of such training to an institution associated with severe human rights violations.
At present, there is an Early Day Motion ‘EDM’ presented by Colombian and British citizens with great concerns about the ongoing violations of human rights in Colombia.
The EDM4 expresses profound concern on reports of excessive use of force by the Colombian police against overwhelmingly peaceful social protests as confirmed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights across Colombia from 28 April 2021, as part of a national strike; believes the right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly are essential tenets of democracy; condemns serious human rights violations allegedly carried out by the police, including the use of live ammunition resulting in the deaths of over 30 protesters, numerous cases of sexual violence and serious injuries, over 100 people reported disappeared, over 800 arbitrary arrests, and targeted attacks on civil society organisations and human rights defenders, some of whom were trying to monitor the police.
It also condemns the small minority who infiltrated the peaceful protests and perpetrated violence: notes with alarm the Colombian Government’s order to militarise the cities and urges them instead to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the protest organisers to address their legitimate grievances: calls on the Government to review its training of the Colombian Poke, suspend the sale of riot control materials and review all other arms exports to Colombia in light of the current situation; and father calls on the Government as pen holders (or the Colombian peace process at the UN Security Council to promote substantive reform of the Colombian security services and full implementation of the Peace Accord.
The focus of the dossier is to tackle the urgent human rights emergency, without expanding on the nature of the economic drivers of the crisis. We stress that the governments of Europe and the UK have a profound responsibility to do the right thing for the Colombian people, not least because of the free trade agreements and decades, not to mention centuries going back to colonial times, of wealth extraction and environmental harm.
An Open Call – Mobilise and Accompany Colombia’s Social Movements
Beyond this, we urge all progressive movements to lend their support and provide emergency aid to the social movements in Colombia.
At the time of writing, we do not yet know the outcome of the national Strike, what we do know is that its participants in the protests are running great risks for their lives in order to create a better future, a more just and equitable society. We also know about the cruelty of the repression by the state and its paramilitary allies that once again have been mobilised in a murderous wave against a new generation of resistance.
We urge all our readers to do whatever they can to defend human rights and the collective right to social protest in Colombia, to mobilise with us internationally and to accompany our sisters and brothers in the long fight for social justice.
Our struggle continues and. with your help, this time we want to see real change.
Read the dossier by following this link: