The United Nations strongly condemned the “excessive use of force” by security forces during protests in Colombia against tax reform. An official report shows 19 dead and nearly 850 injured.
On May 4, the United Nations strongly condemned the “excessive use of force” by the security forces during demonstrations in Colombia against a government tax reform project. While the death toll communicated by the authorities is 19 dead including a police officer and nearly 850 injured including at least 306 civilians, the UN is particularly worried about the situation in the city of Cali, due to unconfirmed information. reporting more deaths and injuries.
Protesters call to “stop the massacre”
Gathered around the slogan “Stop the massacre”, protesters took to the streets of several towns on May 3, after Nicolas Guerrero, 22, was shot dead in the head in Cali. According to protesters, the bullet was fired by riot police. This new series of protests spread from this southwestern city to the capital, Bogota, as well as Medellin and Barranquilla, in northern Colombia.
“We are deeply alarmed by the events in the city of Cali in Colombia, where the police opened fire on demonstrators who oppose tax reform, killing and injuring a number of people,” Marta Hurtado said, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, during a UN press briefing in Geneva. She also called for calm ahead of a new day of protests scheduled for May 5.
“Our office in Colombia is verifying the exact number of victims and determining how this terrible incident could have happened in Cali,” said Marta Hurtado, adding that human rights defenders had also reported threats and harassment. “Due to the extreme tensions, with soldiers and police in charge of controlling the demonstrations, we call for calm”, she also declared, before “reminding the government authorities to protect human rights” , including the right to demonstrate peacefully. The spokesperson also wished to recall that “firearms should only be used as a last resort”.
The government of President Ivan Duque has deployed the army in some areas to bring the unrest under control, notably in Cali, where protests have turned to riots and looting.
An unwelcome tax reform project in a country affected by the crisis
For several days, demonstrators have been opposing the tax reform project presented by the government which aims to collect around 6.3 billion dollars between 2022 and 2031 as the country is hit hard by the health crisis and its economic consequences. . As reported by France 24, the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) fell by 6.8% in 2020 and the opposition considers that this reform will weaken the middle class. If the demonstrators made the authorities back down on this specific project – President Ivan Duque having announced the withdrawal of the project on May 2 – the government has not for all that given up the desire to reform the tax sector.
Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned on May 3, saying he wanted to give the government some leeway after the withdrawal of the tax bill, which he had helped craft. On the same day, Defense Minister Diego Molano accused the protesters at a press conference of having links with armed groups, citing the communist guerrilla groups FARC – officially dissolved in 2017 after a peace agreement – and the National Liberation Army (ELN). He nevertheless refused to share the evidence of his allegations with journalists.