HRC47: End human rights violations against protesters in Colombia

Yesterday, June 22, 2021, during the 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, a group of more than 300 non-governmental human rights organizations, social movements and victims’ associations presented a joint oral statement calling for action by the international community in response to the grave human rights violations committed in recent weeks in Colombia.

The organizations echoed the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Michelle Bachelet, on Monday, during the presentation of her annual report. The High Commissioner called for prompt, effective and independent investigations into the 56 deaths (54 of them civilians and 2 police officers) recorded by her Office in the context of the protests – that began on April 28, 2021 (National Strike) –  as well as the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The terms of the Peace Agreement are key to addressing the structural inequalities that have given rise to the protests and the State’s brutal response to them.

During the same interactive dialogue, the diplomatic missions of Belgium and Switzerland called for the respect of the right to freedom of assembly; expressed concern over the excessive use of force during the protests, and called for channels of dialogue to be set up.

In their statement to the Council, the non-governmental organisations highlighted a range of violations against those exercising their right to protest in Colombia, including killings, excessive use of force, acts constituting torture and other inhuman treatment, forced disappearances, sexual violence, arbitrary detentions and attacks, including cyber-attacks.

The organizations noted that these events which constitute flagrant violations of human rights, have taken place despite both the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice urging the Colombian security forces not to act in a violent, arbitrary and systematic manner during the demonstrations, and the calls of human rights mechanisms to cease these violations.

They also highlighted that the protests are linked to demands for human rights-related structural changes, including in regard to poverty (42% of Colombian society lives in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty), inequality, growing social injustices, impunity, systemic racism and systematic violence against human rights defenders, including social, peasant, union and indigenous leaders and the press, and the lack of full implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement.

The organizations urged the Human Rights Council to demand that Colombia cease the use of violence and respect the right to peaceful protest; to carry out independent investigations of human rights violations committed in this context; to accept the visit of Special Procedures; and to facilitate the building of social consensus around structural demands.

Finally, they asked the High Commissioner, through the monitoring of her office in Colombia, to prepare a report on the human rights violations committed during the protests.

The joint declaration, which brought together various organizations from Colombia, Latin America and different countries of the world, was read before the Council by a representative of the Franciscan Family in Colombia.

Despite the fact that the relationship between the protests and the lack of effective implementation of the Havana Peace Accords has been constantly highlighted by Colombian social organizations, in its response to the High Commissioner, the Colombian State denied the link between the National Strike and the lack of implementation of the agreements. Once again the Colombian Government has ignored the demands of the sectors involved in the protests and downplayed the relevance of the implementation of internationally binding agreements.