Repression against people protesting
A national strike “Paro Nacional” started on 28 April, triggered by a tax reform proposal from the President Duque aimed at increasing tax revenues to face the economic crisis after a year of economic slowdown out of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemics in the country.
The “Paro Nacional” was also retaking several demands from the Colombia society expressed in similar protests in late 2019, such as measures to stop the killing of social leaders, the fulfillment of the Peace Accords, an accessible, safe and comprehensive health system, and a thorough police reform, among others.
On 1 May, the president announced a military presence in “urban centers where there is a high risk to the integrity of citizens”, and stated: “I want to issue a clear warning to those who, through violence, vandalism and terrorism, seek to intimidate society and think that by this mechanism they will break the institutions”. On 5 May, the president also said “The vandalism threat we face consists of a criminal organization that hides behind legitimate social aspirations” and added “The extreme vandalism and urban terrorism we are observing is financed and articulated by drug trafficking mafias”.
Since the beginning of the “Paro Nacional” several mobilizations in key cities like Bogotá, Cali, and Pasto were met by excessive use of force, including armed and lethal force, deriving into 31 persons killed, 216 injured and 814 arbitrarily detained. There are also concerning reports of acts of sexual violence and people disappeared.
Amnesty International verified videos where the Colombian police used lethal weaponry as well as indiscriminate use of less lethal weapons such as tear gas, water cannons and other materials against demonstrators in several parts of the country.
This pattern of repression to protests for this year’s “Paro Nacional” mimics that seen on the protests in 2019, when several people were killed after been shot with tear gas-grenades and firearms with live and potentially lethal ammunition, and other protests in late 2020 when the National Police reported that 403 people were injured, among them 194 members of the security forces, and 10 people were killed in the context of protests in response to the lawyer Javier Ordonez’s killing by the police.
Several investigations for crimes committed by the law enforcement officers in the context of protests are on their way, but the fact that human rights violations committed by police keep being investigated by military justice jurisdiction, such as the case of Dilan Cruz killed during a protest in 2019, impedes tangible progress towards achieving truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition to the victims, their relatives and the society.