The human rights agency of the Organization of American States called on Colombia’s authorities to release people who were jailed for their participation in anti-government protests in 2021.
In a report, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) urged on Colombian authorities to release people who were unjustly jailed for their participation in the so-called “National Strike.”
The office of Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa has been investigating hundreds of people who took part in the largely peaceful protests on all kinds of criminal charges, including terrorism.
At least 150 people would still be in jail as a consequence of what human rights organizations and President Gustavo Petro have called a “persecution” of participants in the protests against former President Ivan Duque, one of Barbosa’s best friends.
The recommendation to the competent authorities is to review the situation of those persons who may have been arbitrarily detained, so that they can follow these processes in freedom, with alternative measures to imprisonment that continue to allow the advancement of justice, but with greater participation of the people.
IACHR representative Joel Hernandez
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Deadly police violence
During the protests between April and July 2021, police arbitrarily arrested thousands of protesters and took part in the killing of at least 74 protesters, according to human rights organizations.
In response to the violent crackdown, the IACHR investigated the alleged human rights violations and in July 2021 made 41 recommendations that would guarantee citizens’ right to protest peacefully.
In a follow-up report on the progress of 28 of these recommendations, the agency found that only three recommendations were implemented substantially, 14 were partially implemented and 11 were pending implementation.
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Persecution of protesters
The prosecution’s alleged persecution of protesters and refusal to investigate the police brutality during the protests have escalated tensions between Barbosa and human rights organizations.
According to Alberto Yepes of the NGO Coordination Colombia-Europe-United States, 27 people were still missing and that the prosecution refused to investigate missing persons reports because they lacked data.
Another 23 people were found dead after they went missing, human rights organization Defender La Libertad told Colombia Reports.
Barbosa attacks human rights defenders
Barbosa confirmed that the prosecution never investigated 195 missing persons reports because they “lacked information.”
The chief prosecutor accused the NGO’s of “trying to torpedo the institutionality” by including 300 people “who never had gone missing” on a list of 625 missing persons that was given to the prosecution.
According to Barbosa, none of the people who had been reported missing were ever in danger, ignoring the allegations that almost two dozen were found dead.
Why so many people went missing
The vast majority of people who were reported as missing in the first weeks of the protests apparently could not be located because they had been arrested by police and detained in make-shift jails.
According to Defender La Libertad, other people who reappeared said they were held hostage in police vans.