More than 300 people who had settled in the square two weeks earlier — in an attempt to draw attention to their situation and pressure the national government into providing aid — were forcibly removed in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the El Tiempo newspaper reported.
The displacement victims — reportedly from such diverse states as Meta, in the east of the country; Antioquia, in the center; Nariño in the southwest; and Valle del Cauca on the Pacific coast — denounced the authorities for meeting their pleas with force and violence. According to El Tiempo, more than 400 policemen were called upon to remove the protesters, including members of the riot police force (ESMAD), widely accused of human rights violations.
“They took out women and children by force, they stepped on us, hit a few people and they pushed a man to the ground and threw away his prosthesis” one of the victims said, according to Caracol Radio.
Another victim, a man reportedly missing a leg, told RCN Radio that the he was hit several times by the authorities and beaten even after he made clear his disability.
The situation in the Plaza de Bolivar reportedly took a turn for the worse on when authorities attempted to take children away from their parents. Parents responded aggressively when members of child services arrived on the scene.
According to RCN Radio, the children were taken to special shelters, accompanied by members of the local ombudsman’s office.
The capital’s main plaza was “cleaned” by 2 am Wednesday, according to authorities, and the displaced people were replaced by voting tables set up for this Sunday’s presidential elections, El Tiempo reported.
Colombia Reports spoke with the Bogota Ombudsman’s Office Wednesday, but a representative declined to comment on the situation or provide any figures for the number of people involved. Reports have included figures ranging from 300 to 600 people.
Forced displacement continues to be one of the most impactful human rights issues stemming from Colombia’s longstanding armed conflict.
Just last week, in the northwest of the country, where some of the protesters were reportedly from, as many as 3,000 people were displaced in ongoing clashes between rebel and neo-paramilitary groups active in the area.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on armed groups in the area to allow civilians to access food and other basic necessities, and said that a local team will continue monitoring the situation of the displaced communities in order to provide urgent assistance if need be.
A new Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report published in May revealed that at least 12% of Colombia’s 47 million people are victims of forced displacement, and that of the approximately 6.3 million people in Latin America who have been forced to flee their homes due to war or violence, 5.7 million were Colombian.