Wednesday 5 May 2021, London joined other cities throughout the UK, Europe and around the world in hosting a rally to show solidarity with the people of Colombia. Londoners – Colombians and friends, old and young – gathered in support of Colombia’s peaceful protesters, while denouncing the repression with which they have been met.
From 28 April, Colombia’s National Strike began in various cities and municipalities across the country, following a proposed new tax reform which would hit the poorest with, amongst other measures, increased taxes on basic foods. In the context of a country experiencing one of the longest lockdowns in the world, with those living in extreme poverty reported to have increased by 2.8 million over the last year, and an ongoing lag in implementation of the agreements made in the Peace Accord, the protests go beyond the tax reform.
As reported by the EU and the UN, the demonstrations across Colombia have been met by an excessive use of force by the police.
- “…the events that occurred in the last week, in several cities of the country, where loss of human life, incidents of violence and the disproportionate use of force have been reported” (UN Verification Mission in Colombia, 7 May, our translation)
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep concern regarding “developments in the city of Cali in Colombia … where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people”. Colombian NGO Temblores reports that between 28 April and 6 May, 36 people have been killed, allegedly by the police force, along with 1,728 incidents of police violence.
Along with the international community, ABColombia has expressed deep concern regarding the intervention of the Colombian Security Forces, in the social protests. The Minister of Defence deployed 300 troops in Medellin and Cali. The legitimate right to defend human rights, and the right to public assembly and social protest, are enshrined in Colombian Political Constitution; the Colombian government must guarantee the peaceful exercise and protection of such rights.
It is important to underline that the majority of protests have been peaceful, something that was confirmed by the UN. A minority of people have infiltrated the social protests and perpetrated violent actions. Violence and attacks on infrastructure can only act to delegitimising the legitimate social protest of the peaceful protesters.
- “The EU rejects and condemns the use of violence by those who mingle with peaceful protesters only to commit acts of vandalism. Their illegal actions stifle the voice of the citizenry, reduce the space for civil society to express itself, and generate chaos and disorder.” (EU Vice President Borrell)
Back in London, scenes of Colombian flags erupted throughout the city. An estimated 2,000 people took the streets in Trafalgar Square in Central London, as well as in Elephant and Castle, where many Colombians reside, to stand with those in Colombia.
The claps and chants to express solidarity with Colombia were not stopped by the (multiple) heavy downpours of rain, nor by the tears shed by some of those courageously giving speeches; on the loss and pain they feel for those suffering in their country, and on how essential it is that the international community pays attention and holds the Colombian government accountable.
Friends of ABColombia stood amongst the crowds, sharing our recent statement; London and the UK stands with the people of Colombia, strongly rejects the repression they are being faced with, and urges the Colombian government to take steps to protect the rights of its citizens.
Disproportionate use of police force in Colombia must stop, and those who have violated human rights must be investigated and prosecuted.