UN rights office condemns Colombia crackdown on protests

The UN says Colombian police in Cali ‘opened fire’ on protests sparked by a government tax proposal.

A police officer fires tear gas at protesters during a strike against tax reform in Cali, Colombia [File: Andres Gonzalez/The Associated Press]

The United Nation’s human rights office (OHCHR) has expressed “deep alarm” over violence at the Colombian city of Cali, saying police “opened fire” on people taking part in days of protests against proposed tax changes.

In comments made on Tuesday during a press briefing in Geneva, spokeswoman Maria Hurtado said the body was working to verify the exact number of casualties but reports suggested a number of people had been killed and wounded overnight in Cali.

“We express our profound shock at the events there and stress our solidarity with those who have lost their lives, as well as the injured and their families”, she said.

Teachers, university students, trade unions, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous groups and many others began taking to the streets to protest against the measures put forward by the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque. According to OHCHR, at least 14 people have died since the protests began on April 28.

The demonstrations continued on Monday even after Duque withdrew the controversial tax proposal, which critics said favoured the wealthy and put extra pressure on the working and middle classes, and Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla submitted his resignation.

Hurtado told reporters in Geneva that the situation remained volatile ahead of a mass demonstration called for Wednesday.

“Given the extremely tense situation, with soldiers as well as police officers deployed to police the protest, we call for calm,” Hurtado said, adding “the majority of the protests to date have been peaceful”.

The protests have extended beyond the tax proposal, with the crackdown by police, the economic fallout of the pandemic, and increased insecurity adding to the discontent.

“We remind the state authorities of their responsibility to protect human rights, including the right to life and security of person, and to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” said Hurtado.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies