Colombia: authorities must respect right to peaceful protest and end excessive force against protestors

The Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) and the ICJ have called upon national and local authorities to respect the right of peaceful assembly and cease all use of unlawful force against protestors immediately.

Beginning 28 April, thousands of people have taken to the streets in towns and cities throughout Colombia to protest and the social and economic policies of the current national government. As of this writing the protests continue.

The CCJ and the ICJ have expressed their concern about widespread and serious human rights violations committed during the protests.

There are multiples reports from civil society organizations that document incidents where police officials have opened fire with live ammunition against protestors.

Although full and precise figures are unavailable, as of 6 May 2021, according to the Ombudspersons’ Office  at least 26 people had lost their lives. In at least 11 cases, police officials were allegedly responsible for the killings.

The NGO Temblores has documented 37 killings and the NGO Indepaz has information of more than 1.200 people injured during the protests. In addition,  a number of cases of sexual violence have been reported.

The organizations are especially concerned that there are substantial number of people whose whereabouts are unknown. Complete figures on possible disappeared persons are not available. Even more worrisome, there are substantial differences among the figures provided by different sources.

In this regard, for instance, the Ombudspersons’ Office said that it has received information about the possible disappearance of 145 people. The Ombudspersons’ Office has established the whereabout of 55 people.

For its part, the civil society platform Mesa de Trabajo sobre Desaparición Forzada en Colombia has informed that it has information of 471 potential cases of enforced disappearances. According to the platform, the whereabout of 92 people have been determined.

The violent acts committed in Valle del Cauca are particularly serious. In this region, it has been reported that at least 17 people have died, and an undetermined number of people are seriously wounded.

Similarly, in Cali, some members of human rights organizations and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia alleged that they had been subject to verbal attacks and physical assault when there were verifying the situation of detained people.

The CCJ and the ICJ urge Colombian authorities to acknowledge act to address the allegations of human violations committed during the protests. They must conduct, independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, and transparent investigations in accordance with Colombian law and its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Furthermore, the investigation must take place within the ordinary criminal jurisdiction and under no circumstances should there be resort to military jurisdiction. Under international law and standards, cases that may constitute arbitrary deprivation of life or enforced disappearances cannot be considered to be connected with military duties.

Additionally, there is information that some police officials have been wounded, and at least one was allegedly unlawfully killed. The CCJ and the ICJ condemn these and other violent acts and urge judicial authorities to investigate and sanctions those responsible.

On the other hand, the CCJ and the ICJ recall that the use of force by police officials should must only be deployed in accordance with international standards. In particular, any such action must comply with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

These Principles establish that the use of force should be exceptional, necessary and proportional. Especially, authorities should faithfully comply with principle 9 that sets out that lethal force should be not used “except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury”.

Finally, the CCJ and the ICJ express their great concern about the national government’s decision to involve the military forces for the contention of the violence under the legal figure of “military assistance” (asistencia militar). The decision does not respect the international human rights law standards on the use of force and the right of peaceful assembly.

It should be remembered that military forces are not trained or designed to protect and control civilians during protests or scenarios of disruption of public order.

Therefore, the participation of military forces should be exceptional in situations of necessity, for example to confront immediate extreme violence and temporally limited, as affirmed by international bodies such as the UN Committee on Human rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. 


Ana María Rodríguez, Deputy Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, anarodriguez(a)

Rocío Quintero M, Latin American Legal and Policy Adviser, International Commission of Jurists, rocio.quintero(a)


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