Christian Escobar Mora/Amnesty International

Colombia: The IACHR must listen to the voices of victims of human rights violations

The voices of victims of violence, abuses and police repression must dominate the agenda of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during its visit to Colombia between 8 and 10 June, said Amnesty International today.

Amnesty International is continuing to monitor, verify and document the excessive use of force and human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators in Bogotá, Cali, Pereira, Popayán, Madrid and Facatativá, among other cities. The organization has verified audiovisual material showing the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of lethal and less lethal weapons by the Colombian police, in particular ESMAD (mobile riot police units), which have resulted in serious injuries and the deaths of dozens of people, according to reports by human rights organizations on the ground.

“In addition to the complaints of victims of human rights violations in the context of the violent repression of protests by the security forces, we have received grave reports of continuing violence against communities in rural areas of the country. The repression against Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombian communities, community leaders and human rights defenders continues. These voices have been ignored for decades; it is time for the Colombian authorities to acknowledge that social discontent is a consequence of that violence and abandonment,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

The repression against Indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombian communities, community leaders and human rights defenders continues.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

“The IACHR must hear first-hand the testimonies of hundreds of victims who are demanding truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition for the human rights violations committed in the context of the repression of protests; guarantee the space to listen to the voices of historically marginalized communities; and include analysis of the structural causes that have fuelled social discontent.”

Reports from human rights organizations and platforms highlight the constant police repression since the start of the National Strike. The campaign Defender la Libertad es Asunto de Todas has reported that between 28 April and 2 June there had been 76 homicides, mostly of young people, 34 of which were allegedly caused by the actions of the security forces in the context of the demonstrations. The campaign also reported that 988 people sustained injuries as a result of the excessive use of force by ESMAD; 74 of those wounded had eye injuries. The NGO Temblores reported that as of 31 May, there had been 3,789 cases of unwarranted police violence and 1,649 protesters had been arbitrarily arrested.

Reports indicate that there have been 151 attacks against human rights defenders in the context of demonstrations. They include Daniela Soto, a young Indigenous woman from the Sa’th Tama Kiwe reserve, leader of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) and a human rights defender, who was seriously injured on 9 May in Cali; and the killing of Sebastián Jacanamejoy, a young Indigenous defender, on 28 May during a demonstration in Cali.

There are also an alarming number of reports of people feared missing in the context of the National Strike. At the end of a month of mobilizations, the Working Group on Forced Disappearances had recorded 775 people feared disappeared, the whereabouts of 327 of whom remain unknown, and urged the relevant institutions to activate the search and location mechanisms urgently. The Working Group has documented cases indicating that members of the police and ESMAD were responsible for carrying out hundreds of arbitrary arrests which were not registered or overseen by supervisory bodies.

“The Colombian authorities must act with due diligence to investigate reports of enforced disappearances in the context of social mobilization and activate search mechanisms, as a matter of priority. These practices are aimed at instilling fear to silence the voices of peaceful protesters. The silence of Iván Duque’s government in the face of these crimes is unacceptable. The IACHR’s visit is a beacon of hope for thousands of families who are still looking for their loved ones,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

The Ombudsperson’s Office reported that it has verified 106 cases of gender-based violence against women and people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Such incidents have been reported in various parts of Colombia, including the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño and Boyacá, among others. The accounts of survivors of sexual violence committed by members of the security forces are heartrending, and describe torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, psychological violence and sexual abuse and harassment, aimed at instilling fear and punishing them for their participation in the demonstrations.

Amnesty International is also concerned at repeated statements by national authorities that criminalize social protests – which are largely peaceful – and thereby justify the excessive use of force against the population. The authorities have an obligation to recognize that peaceful protest is a right and that it must be protected.

The statements of President Duque and other high-ranking officials about the alleged “terrorist purposes” of the peaceful marches must stop. The militarized response to the protests in Colombia, provided for by Decree 575, issued on 28 May, is in breach of Colombia’s international human rights obligations.

In addition to an environment in which those who exercise their right to peacefully protest are stigmatized, there are credible reports that people in civilian clothes, acting with the acquiescence and acceptance of the security forces, have killed and injured protesters in several cities. The situation in Cali is of particular concern, where images and videos have circulated of heavily armed civilians repressing protesters with the acquiescence and acceptance of police officers. Amnesty International has received worrying reports of more than 55 violent deaths in Cali in which members of the security forces and armed civilians were allegedly implicated.

The IACHR must hear first-hand the testimonies of hundreds of victims who are demanding truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition for the human rights violations committed in the context of the repression of protests.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

In this context of violence, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) reported that, between 28 April and 4 May, there were 87 physical attacks against journalists covering National Strike demonstrations. They also reported 42 threats, nine cases of arbitrary detention and 13 instances of material being deleted. Amnesty International is concerned about the reported attacks on journalists and reiterates that the authorities must respect the freedom of the press and guarantee that those engaged in journalistic activities are able to cover events safely.

The IACHR has an opportunity to help ensure that impunity does not prevail in the cases of the thousands of people demanding justice, truth and reparation. Amnesty International believes that the visit can make a fundamental contribution to overcoming the human rights crisis in the country. In this context, victims must have accessible channels to obtain information on the visit to ensure that their testimonies are heard by the IACHR.

Finally, Amnesty International calls on the Colombian authorities to guarantee that the IACHR can carry out its visit without undue interference, so that it can meet with all the authorities, organizations, individuals and communities that it deems necessary and pertinent to fulfil its mandate. The authorities must also provide the necessary travel facilities and refrain from using security as an excuse to restrict the IACHR’s work, as well as guaranteeing the safety of people who come before the IACHR and ensuring that they are not subjected to threats, reprisals or actions aimed at discrediting them.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Duncan Tucker: [email protected]