For the right to peaceful protest, human rights and justice in Colombia
Request for temporary suspension of the EU-Colombia Trade Agreement
President of the European Council
Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Vice-President of the European Commission
David Maria Sassoli
President of the European Parliament
President of hat Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly
Mr. Eamon Gilmore
EU Special Representative for Human Rights
People around the world are following with great concern and horror the excessive violence of the Colombian security forces against thousands of demonstrators standing up for their social and political rights. At least 43 people have been killed by police since the start of the national protests on April 28 until May 26, 2021. In addition, there are 150 persons missing and more than 2,000 cases of violence by the security forces, especially the special anti-riot squads (ESMAD). Since May 1, 2021, the military has also been deployed in cities such as Cali. At the end of May, president Duque has ordered maximum military deployment in Cali. The administrations of a total of eight departments and thirteen cities have been ordered by decree to deploy and coordinate police and military units to restore public order.
There are reports of the use of non-police facilities as detention centres as well as reports of torture and anonymous mass graves in the town of Mulaló (30 minutes from the city of Cali). There are testimonies from witnesses and videos that show that the police forces accompany armed civilians who shoot at demonstrators, and do not hinder or arrest these persons.
The Ecumenical Commission for Justice and Peace reports that armed civilian groups have set up a so-called chopping house in Ciudad Jardín, a neighbourhood of Cali (these houses have been set up, for example, in the port city of Buenaventura to dismember people alive for hours).
Independent coverage on instances during the protests is proving extremely difficult. The Foundation for Press Freedom reports at least 149 attacks on journalists. In addition, house searches have been carried out on journalists from the Social Network of Alternative Media for Peace.
Systematic and excessive violence is an enduring problem in Colombia, particularly affecting social leaders as well as human rights and environmental defenders. Murder, disappearances, rape, torture and threats are used to silence all those who stand up for people’s rights, especially those of marginalised groups. Since the signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the largest guerrilla group, FARC, in 2016, until August 2021, over 1100 social leaders have been assassinated, 600 of them during President Duque’s term. Likewise, massacres of civilians increased by 30% under his presidency, with 91 massacres counted in 2020 and 37 already this year. On top of all these atrocities, over 270 ex-combatants of the former FARC guerrillas who signed the peace agreement have been assassinated. With the horrendous number of 8 million, Colombia is the country with the most internally displaced persons, this year there have already been 27,435 new displacements. Most of these human rights crimes are committed by illegal armed groups, most notably paramilitary groups. However, communities and human rights organisations point out that there are links between the paramilitary groups and the state security forces.
The recent national strike protests are neither new nor surprising. In the midst of a downward socio-economic spiral, the Duque government announced tax and health reforms that would have been detrimental to the poorer population. Last year alone, the national poverty index increased by 6.8 percent to its current level of 42.5 percent, affecting 21.2 million people in Colombia. In addition, there is the chronically high level of corruption, an extreme inequality with regard to the distribution of wealth, as well as the serious failures of the Duque government to implement the peace agreement of 2016, especially in the area of land reform and the dismantling of paramilitary structures. Agro-industrial and mining projects contribute immensely to the displacement of the rural population and often disregard the rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian people.
In view of the blatant human rights violations, we, the signatories of this letter, call on the European Union to suspend the EU-Colombia trade agreement according to Article 1, which defines respect for democratic principles and human rights as an essential element of the agreement.
The agreement should be suspended until
- the Colombian government can verifiably guarantee the right to peaceful protest,
- the human rights violations allegedly committed by security forces during the national strike protests are fully investigated by a purely civilian judiciary,
- an independent investigation by international organisations into the human rights violations allegedly committed during the national strike protests has taken place and a report is available,
- the Colombian government has verifiably taken appropriate measures to protect human rights and environmental defenders,
- the Colombian government has verifiably taken measures to dismantle paramilitary structures.