Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over the Use of Force in Protests in Colombia

June 13, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the repression of protests and demonstrations in Buenaventura, Colombia, by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD). The IACHR urges the Colombian State to investigate whether excessive force was used and to adopt urgent and reasonable measures to fully guarantee the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

According to publicly available information, a general strike began in Buenaventura on May 16 and lasted for 22 days, during which time there were marches and protests. The mobilizations were to demand access to sources of employment, housing, drinking water, education, and health, among other economic, social, and cultural rights. On June 2, 2017, civil society organizations and communities reported that heavily armed ESMAD personnel carried out a repressive operation in Buenaventura which included the use of tanks among civilians. Information received by the IACHR also indicates that tear gas was used against peaceful demonstrators, including children, older people, and people with disabilities.

The Inter-American Commission expresses its deep concern over the information received indicating that there may have been an excessive use of force on the part of security authorities. States should adopt measures to guarantee that all sectors of society can exercise their right to participate peacefully in protests without fear of suffering acts of violence. The conduct of security forces must at all times respect international human rights norms and comply with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality.

In addition, the IACHR calls on the States to implement measures to prevent the excessive use of violence, especially against people of African descent in the Americas. The Inter-American Commission, through regional thematic hearings and other mechanisms, has been monitoring cases said to have involved an excessive use of force by police officers against Afro-descendants. In this regard, the IACHR urges the State to adopt legislative measures, public policies, and coordinated institutional measures to eliminate racial discrimination, including measures to protect and guarantee the right to non-discrimination in the context of protest demonstrations.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also notes that States have the obligation to adopt all measures within their power to promote respect for and guarantee of all economic, social, and cultural rights, taking into account the situation of systematic exclusion of Afro-descendants and their communities. States should devote human resources and funds to help neutralize racial prejudice and stereotypes and, at the same time, improve living conditions for people of African descent with respect to medical care, housing, education, and work.

In this regard, the IACHR welcomes the constructive dialogue held between representatives of the groups of demonstrators and the government; this ended with an agreement on June 6, after which the strike was lifted. The Commission hopes that this agreement will allow the State of Colombia to make progress in guaranteeing basic economic, social, and cultural rights, such as access to drinking water, health, housing, education, and labor rights. There is a close link between economic, social, and cultural rights and civil and political rights. The different categories of rights constitute an indivisible whole based on the recognition of the dignity of the human person, which is why both require permanent protection and promotion to be fully realized.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 076/17