This is a translated statement from JRS Colombia and the Jesuit Migration Network (Red Jesuita con Migrantes). Read the original statement in Spanish here.
May 25, 2021 — Following a police crackdown on protests that killed at least 41 people, JRS Colombia is calling on the National Government to guarantee and protect the constitutional rights of all Colombians, including the right to life, to social protest and the defense of human rights.
Along with many instances of a militarized and disproportionate response to protesters identified in various parts of the country, JRS Colombia, during its work in the city of Buenaventura, identified an excessive use of public force by an ESMAD squadron. This unit sought to stop national strike demonstrations in the Indigenous community of the Resguardo Nasa-Embera-Chami. Together with JRS Colombia, we join the call to the National Government to protect its citizens from police violence and, as dictated by the Supreme Court of Justice, to commit to the absolute respect and maintenance of neutrality towards peaceful protests, even if they are aimed at questioning government policies. (See JRS/COLcommuniqué)
We insist on the respect for human rights as a fundamental basis for the strengthening of democracy in Latin America. With this, we can consolidate the rule of law and thus promote ways of dialogue that build bridges of reconciliation and social justice, ensuring that people can live with dignity, freedom and security in their territories.
The protests that began on April 28 have been marred by acts of violence, repression and excessive use of force against protesters by the police, a situation that increased with the militarization of some cities. The Campaña Defender la Libertad (Defend Freedom Campaign), a platform that has monitored the events, reports as of May 3, 2021, that “305 people were injured by the disproportionate actions of the National Police and in particular by the ESMAD, 23 suffered eye injuries, and 47 human rights defenders were attacked in the context of the mobilizations. 11 people were victims of gender-based violence exercised by the same institution. 18 people have been killed allegedly due to the actions of the police. 988 people have been detained, most of them by means of arbitrary procedures, being subjected to torture and/or cruel treatment” (Report of May 4). For its part, the Ombudsman’s Office registers “19 deaths in Valle del Cauca, Bogotá, Neiva, Cali, Soacha, Yumbo, Ibagué, Madrid, (Cundinamarca), Medellín and Pereira”, figures yet to be clarified. Additionally, the Mesa de Trabajo sobre Desaparición Forzada (Working Group on Forced Disappearances) has documented 135 reports of possible forced disappearances, of which 107 persons are still missing. Some of these facts have been registered by CINEP/PPP.
In the city of Cali, police opened fire on demonstrators, killing and injuring several people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, expressed her concern over the incident, saying that states have the responsibility to protect human rights and facilitate peaceful gatherings, that the security forces must respect the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality and that weapons should be used as a last resort.