Today, May 2, the Iván Duque government decided to listen to the public uproar and withdraw its regressive, damaging tax reform, a flippant attempt to inflict further suffering on the Colombian people, who have already been gravely affected by the government’s failure to adopt a coherent approach to the pandemic. Duque’s insistence on forcing this measure upon a majority of citizens opposed to it led to violent repression of demonstrators and flagrant infringement of the public’s right to mobilize, protest, and participate in matters affecting them within an environment of law and order.
After five days of intense mobilization, the repression deployed against the millions of people who took to the streets to fight off this frontal assault on the middle class, the poor, and wage workers resulted in 21 people murdered, 208 injured, 18 who sustained eye injuries, 10 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, at least 503 persons detained, and 42 deliberate attacks on human rights defenders or independent reporters who were denouncing or trying to put an end to these attacks (Campaña Defender la Libertad Asunto de Todas (May 2, 2021), https://twitter.com/DefenderLiberta/status/1388909209459306499
However, the government’s announcement that it would send the army into the streets to contain the social protest poses a new threat to the constitutional and legal order. It exacerbates the risk of further deterioration of the rule of law, which has already degenerated into a climate in which violations of the rights to life, liberty, bodily integrity, and other fundamental rights are commonplace. These rights have been trampled with impunity by a government that has tarred all protest with the brush of vandalism, using this as a pretext for the brutal repression perpetrated by the regular police and the riot squad (ESMAD) without any oversight. In many instances, the violence has been wielded in conjunction with unidentified civilians who made selective and indiscriminate use of weapons with the fatal results described above.
The government’s stigmatization of protest as vandalism has caused the security forces to act with the perception that the demonstrators are internal enemies. To send the army into the streets to confront the population is dangerous since, by training and mission, this corps is equipped to confront situations of armed conflict, not to handle civilian demands.
The withdrawal of the tax reform is a triumph of social protest, a triumph for the millions of people who have borne up under arbitrary attacks by the security forces. Too high a cost has been paid by the victims for the government’s unwillingness to bend on a reform designed to further diminish what little the vulnerable sectors of society still possess. But the social protests have been happening for other reasons, such as the ongoing genocide against social movement leaders and signers of the Peace Accord; the struggles against forced eradication, the manual spraying of glyphosate, and the aerial fumigation of the entire Colombian countryside with this poison, ignoring agreements reached with the thousands of peasants who grow coca leaf; the failure to fully implement the Peace Accord, to seek a negotiated solution to the war and the deterioration of the humanitarian situation outside the large cities; the absence of a guaranteed minimum income for millions of hungry families that cannot meet their basic needs; the lack of effective healthcare, education, and access to decent employment; and the absence of an international policy calling for harmonious relations with neighbouring countries and recognizing their right to self-determination.
For these reasons, we, the undersigned human rights, victims’, and peace organizations call on the government of Iván Duque to reverse its decision to militarize the response to the social protests and, on the contrary, to show its willingness to listen to the people’s demands.
We call on Congress to do its duty and to exert political oversight over the abuses and outrages committed by the government. We call on it to legislate to address the demands of the majority for a guaranteed minimum income so that they can weather the crisis caused by the inadequate official response to the pandemic, not the government’s measures intended to favour the interests of domestic and transnational capital.
We call on the country’s mayors and governors to join the chorus of voices rejecting the national government’s efforts to confront social protest with intensified military and repressive measures of all kinds.
We call on the official oversight bodies—the Defensoría del Pueblo and the Procuraduría General de la Nación—to show their independence by promptly producing a detailed,
comprehensive report on all persons who have been murdered, injured, sexually assaulted, and/or arbitrarily detained in conjunction with the general strike, and to reinstate measures designed to control the government’s abuse of force.
We likewise call on the public prosecutors and the Judicial Branch to conduct prompt, serious, independent, and exhaustive investigations of each and every one of the assaults and attacks denounced, and to order every official reporting to them to refrain from acting in cahoots with those who have perpetrated arbitrary attacks on social movement leaders, organizations, or persons exercising their right to peaceful protest.
Finally, we call on the international community to step up its monitoring of the grave humanitarian crisis affecting the Colombian people as a result of the government’s failure to
make good on its commitments under the Peace Accord. In particular, we call on the international community to ask the Government of Colombia to put an end to human rights violations stemming from its repression of mobilization and social protest.
We call on all the foregoing entities to take every step to restore the guarantees necessary for the exercise of the right to mobilization and social protest, without fear that the exercise of these rights will continue to pose a risk to the life, liberty, and physical, moral, and sexual integrity of those who demand the enjoyment and effectiveness of public rights and freedoms, including the right to live in a peaceful society free of the effects of war.
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