UN experts called on Colombia to stop misusing counter-terrorism measures and serious criminal charges, such as terrorism, to prosecute individuals for taking part in protests against government policies.
The experts urged authorities to ensure that any charges brought forward comply with international law and human rights standards. “The use of such egregious charges to prosecute violent conduct during protests poses a serious threat to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to the legitimacy of international counter-terrorism frameworks and laws,” the experts said. “It has a chilling effect and encourages vilification campaigns against protest movements in the country.”
Information received by the experts indicate that 228 individuals who took part in the protests of 2021 have been charged with serious offences, including terrorism and conspiracy to commit crimes, for which some are facing more than 22 years in prison. More than 180 demonstrators remain in prison or are under house arrest, despite legal provisions that allow for the release of people arrested in connection with the protests so they could await their trial in liberty. The detainees include peaceful protesters as well as young people who allegedly damaged public and private property and engaged in violent and destructive acts.
“We strongly condemn any violence during protests,” the experts said. “While we recognise the State’s responsibility to respond to violence, including by investigating, preventing and dissuading such acts, violent individuals among peaceful demonstrators must be dealt with fairly and in accordance with international human rights standards,” they added.
The experts expressed concern about reports of stigmatisation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, reporters and defence lawyers prosecuted in the context of these proceedings.
They stressed that decisions on whether to prosecute, hold in pre-trial detention, convict or award damages to protesters must meet the requirements of necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination under international human rights law. “Prison sentences for non-violent protest activity and the exercise of human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, are always disproportionate, and therefore incompatible with international human rights law,” the experts said.
*The experts: Mr. Clément N. Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Chairperson-Rapporteur), Mr. Mumba Malila (Vice-Chairperson); Ms. Ganna Yudkiviska, Ms. Priya Golapan, Mr. Matthew Gillett, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what are known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name for the Council’s independent investigative and monitoring mechanisms that address specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.