The Colombian police have been violating human rights during mass protests, which lead to 42 deaths and more than 800 people injured. The mass protests started on April 28th after the government attempt to increase taxes, reduce economic deficits and raise funds for social services.
The Colombian President Iván Duque has announced on Friday, May 28th that military assistance will be sent to support the police and restore order in the City of Cali after four people died on Friday night during the protests. Cali has become the centre of the movement, which has grown over the last month.
The demonstrations started on April 28th due to the announced tax reform by the Colombian government. Because of Colombian’s economic struggle, during the Covid-19 Pandemic, the tax reform was supposed to raise funds for social services. The Pandemic hit the Colombian economy hard and increased unemployment up to 16%. The proposed reform would lower the threshold of taxations on salaries, which would have increased revenues for the government to fund social services. The government has argued, that the plan was necessary to deal with economic difficulties and to keep social programs going. Nevertheless, many middle-class Colombians would have been affected by the tax reforms and fear of slipping into poverty. Particularly the proposed value-added tax increase on everyday goods would have affected the middle-class strongly. This would lead to the expansion of inequality and would affect the groups in society, which are already struggling.
After four days of mass protests against the proposed tax reform, the government withdrew from the draft, but the protests continued over police violence, human rights abuse, poverty and the health crisis. Colombian police have been accused of using force to break up demonstrations, which started on April 28th. The protest has reached 247 cities and towns in which human rights violations were reported. Diverse human rights groups have accused the police of using tear gas and, in some cases, live ammunition.
The United Nations human rights office stated that it was shocked by the events in Colombia where police had fired on protesters. The spokeswomen for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Marta Hurtado, stated the UN had received reports of human rights defenders being harassed and threatened as well as protesters being injured and even killed in the city.
Also, Americas Amnesty International director Erika Guevara-Rosa has said, “The Colombian authorities must promptly, independently and impartially investigate all allegations of excessive and unnecessary use of force against demonstrators, which has resulted in dozens of people being killed and injured, arbitrary detentions, acts of torture and sexual violence, and reports of people disappearing. They must also respect freedom of expression and the press, and ensure that journalists can cover the news in safety.”
Meanwhile, the Colombian president has called for a national dialogue, in which the government will hear the concerns of the people including political parties and social groups. This announcement is a step forward but did not prevent the protesters from continuing to demonstrate. The human rights violations by the Columbian police prevent peaceful protests and a successful national dialogue, which should be inclusive and democratic.
It is important to underline that demonstrations and freedom of speech are basic human rights and should not be intervened by military forces because they violate human rights and stand against the fundaments of democracy. To ensure peace, violence must be stopped and the conditions for peaceful protests must be guaranteed.