Colombia: Appeal to guarantee safety of protesters

May 5, 2021
Colombia solidarity protest on May 4 in Sydney. Photo: UFCA/Facebook

The following appeal has been issued by United for Colombia, Australia, in response to the repression of nationwide protests that began in opposition to the government’s tax reform and which have escalated in the past week.

* * *

United for Colombia Australia (UFCA) and Colombians living in Australia, are urgently appealing to the national and international community, governments, legal and human rights organisations, to guarantee the life and safety of people participating in the huge social protests taking place in various parts of the country since April 28.

The protests began in opposition to President Iván Duque’s government’s proposed tax reform, the so-called "Sustainable Solidarity Law". The government proposed to implement this law in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic and has responded to the voice of the people with repression by the police and the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD).

According to a report issued on May 1 by the NGO Temblores, at least 10 people were killed during the demonstrations and 851 cases of police violence were identified. These include: 68 cases of physical violence, 13 of homicide, 655 arbitrary detentions, 98 cases of violence by the security forces, 8 victims of eye injuries and 18 cases of police shootings.

Other sources indicate that a woman reported being sexually abused by an ESMAD agent in Cali, and a police captain was killed in Soacha in the midst of the riots.

Videos and reports are circulating on social networks and alternative media, showing the security forces repressing mobilisations, firing indiscriminately at people and improperly using their force and power. On several occasions, moreover, these forces have been recorded without identification numbers on their uniforms. Over the past three nights, in cities such as Cali and Bogotá, there have even been intentional blackouts to make it easier for the military forces to repress the population.

We reiterate to the Colombian State that social protest is a human right and a fundamental right, legally and constitutionally recognised and protected in article 37 of the Constitution of Colombia. All citizens, including those who participate in social protest, have a right to be guaranteed their life and physical integrity, without legitimate risk of forced disappearance, torture or cruel and inhuman treatment, according to articles 11 and 12 of the Constitution.

In solidarity with Colombia, once again, we make an urgent appeal to the national and international community, to governments, to social, political and solidarity organisations in Latin America, Australia and the world; and to people interested in combating the systematic violation of human rights in this country and searching for true peace, to add their support to the following demands:

  1. We demand that President Duque's government draw up a real draft "Sustainable Solidarity Law" in consultation with opposition parliamentarians, members of social organisations, trade unions and a committee of financial experts in order to draw up a proposal that is appropriate for the majority of Colombian society.
  2. We urge President Duque to refrain from using military assistance, through the Armed Forces, as a response to the social demands to which the Colombian people have a constitutional right in their free exercise of protest.
  3. We demand that the security forces and military forces comply with their constitutional duty to guarantee and protect fundamental rights, especially the right to life.
  4. We ask the Colombian Congress and the government of President Duque to take measures to improve the austerity policies of the state, reduce the salaries of parliamentarians and senior state officials.
  5. We demand that the judicial authorities, as a matter of urgency, carry out the relevant investigations to clarify the circumstances in which several civilians have been affected or compromised in these days of social protest.

We express our support for the civil strike and reject all acts of vandalism and aggression.

We send our warmest greetings and solidarity to the indigenous, peasant, afro-descendant and queer communities, the student movement, and all the people who have taken to the streets to raise their voices in opposition of the regressive policies that the government wants to impose and that widen the gap of social inequality.

We appreciate your support, your artistic displays and legitimate forms of protest against the government. We encourage you to continue to exercise your right to protest responsibly, in accordance with the guidelines of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Sydney, 4 May 2021

[Visit United For Colombia-Australia and United For Colombia-Australia on Facebook for information and updates.]

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