“If we were carrying out our life’s work in Colombia, our lives would be at risk,” say the social justice leaders

WASHINGTON, DC – More than 250 major social justice organizations and individuals issued a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez, urging them to take action against state violence and police abuse in front of peaceful protests.

The letter read, “We, the undersigned progressive leaders in the U.S., stand in solidarity with the people of Colombia as they risk everything to exercise their international human rights of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly through massive peaceful protests which began on April 28, 2021. We have witnessed vibrant, creative, and peaceful mobilizations turned into crime scenes. We are outraged as we bear witness to the Colombian National Police engaging in repressive tactics against peaceful protestors when their duty is to keep all residents safe. The Colombian government, especially the Anti-Riot Mobile Squads (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios known as ESMAD), have instead used excessive and disproportionate force against protestors.”

The human rights organization Temblores, which has been tracking police violence in Colombia since 2017, has documented 3,155 cases of violence by Colombian law enforcement agents between April 28, 2021, when the protests began and May 26, including 43 murders, 955 injured, and 22 victims of sexual violence, in addition to 1388 protestors arbitrarily detained.

The leaders call on the Colombian government to immediately cease repressing its citizens’ right to protest and hold the ESMAD and National Police accountable for the human rights abuses that have been committed against protestors and also engage in meaningful dialogue with civil society of those communities whose voices have been silenced, ignored, and unmet, including the organizers of the national protests, and commit to addressing structural and systemic reforms including much-needed police reforms.

In addition, the leaders call on the U.S. government to speak out publicly in support of Colombians’ right to peacefully protest and urge the Colombian government to follow through on dialogues with civil society representatives of the most marginalized communities so together they can develop a plan that results in structural reforms including police reforms. The U.S. government must also withhold any US funds under the Leahy Law to ensure our US taxpayer money is not being used to support the ESMAD and other law enforcement units engaging in human rights abuses.

“If we were carrying out our life’s work in Colombia, our lives would be at risk given the long history of social leaders and human rights defenders being killed with impunity,” closed the letter.