Bogota, May 21, 2021 – Protection International (PI) notes with concern that the Colombian government has failed to ensure the necessary guarantees for the exercise of the right to free association, freedom of expression, and peaceful protest. As it stands, Colombia’s official position does not correspond to the State obligations to respect, guarantee, and protect the right to individually and collectively defend human rights, as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups, and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms1.
PI supports the right of indigenous peoples and the minga to defend collectively their human rights and those of the whole society, as well as to fully enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms without hindrance or discrimination; this includes participation in decisions affecting them, by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)2.
Demonstrators at peaceful protests in Colombia in recent weeks were the target of harassment and violent response by the National Police and the National Army, and armed attacks by paramilitary groups. Among the most recent victims were young people, including Afro-descendants and indigenous people, who participated in the mobilizations in the city of Cali. On May 9, The Public Force did not react, while armed civilians – who, so far, have neither been identified nor brought to justice – gunned down members of the indigenous Minga gathered in Cali to protest.
Meanwhile, the President of the Republic, Iván Duque, stated that “at this time we cannot allow provocations to fuel violence and generate a situation that may be unmanageable at a local level, when citizens come into confrontation with those who are arriving from other places and against whom they feel, for one reason or another, some kind of threat“3. He added that “we have seen that citizens have suffered a lot at the moment because of the blockades and feel right now a rejection of additional blockades or threats to their security, to avoid unnecessary confrontations; I want to call on the CRIC (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca) to return to their lands“4.
Such a call does not contribute to building guarantees for the exercise of the right to social protest and fails to condemn armed attacks against demonstrators.
In this regard, PI would like to recall that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has warned that indigenous peoples, together with Afro-descendant and peasant communities, are among the groups most threatened and attacked for defending their rights and for supporting the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement. Therefore, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the government “publicly and regularly recognize, including through media and social campaigns, the fundamental role of human rights defenders in society and condemn violations and attempts to delegitimise and criminalize them“5.
PI calls on the Colombian authorities to guarantee the right of the members of the minga and the indigenous peoples to exercise their right to defend human rights, which includes their right to participate in social protests and in dialogues to seek compromises and solutions to the crisis that Colombian society is undergoing.
1. United Nations, Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, A / RES / 53/144 March 8, 1999. Available at: https://undocs.org/es/A/RES/53/144
2. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous, Resolution approved by the General Assembly 61/295 of September 13, 2007. Available at: https://www.hchr.org.co/phocadownload/publicaciones/otras/declaracion-indigenas-convenio169.pdf
3. “President Duque asks members of the CRIC to return to their guards”, Bogotá, May 9, 2021. Available at: https://idm.presidencia.gov.co/prensa/presidente-duque-pide-a-miembros-del-cric-regresar-a-sus-resguardos-210509
5. United Nations, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Visit to Colombia, A / HRC / 43/51 / Add.1, December 26, 2019, Para. 24. Available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/43/51/Add.1