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Colombia
11.05.21
Urgent Interventions

Colombia: Atacks against human rights defenders in the framework of the National Strike

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

COL 003 / 0521 / OBS 056
Armed attacks /
Threats / Intimidation
Colombia
May 11, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your intervention in the following situation in Colombia.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about numerous assaults, armed attacks, acts of intimidation and threats against human rights defenders in Cali and the municipality of Jamundí (Department of Valle del Cauca), and in Bogotá, in connection with the National Strike which began in Colombia on April 28, 2021. What started out as protests against a tax reform bill introduced by Iván Duque’s government, expanded following the bill’s withdrawal, fuelled by widespread discontent about serious abuses and human rights violations committed by the Colombian police force against protesters. The protests have been accompanied by calls for reforms to the health system and demands for compliance with the 2016 Peace Agreements.

On May 9, 2021, Daniela Soto, an indigenous leader, philosophy student at the University of Cauca and member of the Cauca Youth Agenda (Agenda Joven del Cauca), coordinator of the Youth Programme of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (Programa Jóvenes del Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC) and member of the Pro-Defenders Initiative (Iniciativa ProDefensoras), was shot twice in the abdomen in an armed attack by civilians against a group of CRIC members. Seven others were injured in the attack which took place in the Cañas Gordas area of the municipality of Jamundí while the group were on their way to join the protests in Cali. At the time of publishing this urgent appeal, Daniela is in a critical condition in the Valle del Lili Clinic, Cali.

Three days before this attack, on May 5, former Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, posted a message on social media wrongly linking the CRIC to guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) and warning people of their presence in the municipality of Jamundí. Although the message was later deleted, with the former president apologising for the error, his post contributed to the stigmatisation and criminalisation of CRIC members, and dramatically increased the risks to their personal safety.

On the night of May 5, 2021, in the centre of Bogotá, unknown persons tried to force a member of the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners (Comité de Solidaridad con Presos Políticos, CSPP) into a van[1]. The CSPP is a member organisation of the OMCT, which is observing and accompanying the protests as a member of the Defending Freedom Campaign.

On May 4, 2021, Walter Agredo Muñoz, a member of the Valle del Cauca branch of the CSPP, received a death threat in a pamphlet distributed by unknown persons, in which he, along with other human rights defenders, were accused of belonging to an armed group and declared military targets.

On May 3, 2021, in Cali, members of the CSPP, the Central Union of Workers (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT), the "Francisco Isaías Cifuentes" Human Rights Network (Red de Derechos Humanos) and the Observatory of Social Realities of the Archdiocese of Cali (Observatorio de Realidades Sociales de la Arquidiócesis de Cali) who were taking part in a Verification Mission on persons detained by the police, were threatened by Colombian National Police officers and forced to leave the Fray Damián police station. Subsequently, National Police officers fired at the ground and in the air and officers from the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) threw a stun grenade at them. The Verification Mission was accompanied by representatives of the Ombudsman's Office, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia and the Colombian Attorney General's Office.

On the same day, another Verification Mission made up of members of the CSPP, the CUT and the Defending Freedom Campaign were forced to take refuge all night in a private house in the Junín neighbourhood of Cali to protect their physical integrity after police officers shot at them and a group of demonstrators.

On May 1, 2021, in the city of Bogotá, ESMAD officers threw stun grenades, let off tear gas and threw stones directly at the vehicle in which members of the CSPP and the Defending Freedom Campaign were travelling to observe the protests.

On the night of April 30, 2021, after participating in a joint press conference with a group of civil society organisations, Walter Agredo Muñoz joined a convoy made up of two vehicles belonging to Colombian National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) protection schemes and a private car on its way to the Loma de la Dignidad area of Cali, to carry out protest observation missions. The convoy was intercepted by a group of unknown armed men, who pointed a laser at the driver of the vehicle in which Agredo Muñoz was travelling, forcing them to turn back. The group of assailants threw an object at the first vehicle and then opened fire at the convoy. The vehicle in which Agredo Muñoz was travelling was hit by bullets.

The Observatory strongly condemns all of the above-mentioned attacks and expresses its deepest concern regarding the harassment and attacks by State and non-State actors against those monitoring the National Strike mobilisations. The Observatory stresses that their work is fundamental in guaranteeing the protection of demonstrators, as well as their right to social protest, in the context of the serious human rights violations committed by the Colombian police force. According to the figures published by the Defending Freedom Campaign, as of May 8, 2021 at least 67 human rights defenders had been attacked in the context of these mobilisations.

The Observatory reiterates its concern at the tendency towards criminalising and repressing social protest in Colombia, as observed in both the National Strike of November 2019 and the Protests of September 2020 in Bogotá and other Colombian cities, and at the Colombian authorities’ failure to adopt the measures ordered by the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice in 2020 to guarantee the right to peaceful protest.

The Observatory urges the Colombian authorities to cease the repression of demonstrators and to immediately adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the safety and physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders and those who monitor social protests in Colombia. It furthermore urges the Colombian authorities to guarantee the right to protest and the physical and psychological integrity of those participating in the National Strike.

The Observatory urges the competent authorities to carry out an immediate, independent, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned events.

Please write to the Colombian authorities urging them to:

i. Cease all forms of repression against demonstrators and immediately take the necessary measures to guarantee the safety and physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders monitoring National Strike demonstrations, and of those participating in the protests;

ii. Carry out an immediate, independent, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned threats and attacks, in order to identify all those responsible, and bring them before an independent tribunal;

iii. Put an end to all types of threats, attacks and acts of harassment and criminalisation against all human rights defenders in Colombia;

iv. Immediately adopt the measures stipulated by the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice in its September 2020 ruling to guarantee the right to peacefully protest in Colombia, in particular, the preventive, concomitant and subsequent actions protocol, known as the Statute of Reaction, Use and Verification of the Legitimate Force by the State, and Protection of the Right to Peaceful Citizen Protest (Estatuto de reacción, uso y verificación de la fuerza legítima del Estado, y protección del derecho a la protesta pacífica ciudadana).

Contacts:

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Colombia in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, May 11, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

Tel. OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39

Tel. FIDH: + 33 1 43 55 25 18


[1] The Defending Freedom is Everyone's Business Campaign (Campaña Defender la Libertad: Asunto de Todas) is a network of Colombian civil society organisations, working to report arbitrary arrests and detentions, judicial harassment and the criminalisation of social protest in Colombia.

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