We stand with Colombia

Computer Aid International stand in solidarity with all social actors in Colombia today, and always. Here is a statement from APC which we have signed:

As international and Latin American organisations working at the intersection of technology and human rights, we firmly reject the violent repression in Colombia in response to the massive social mobilisations which began on 28 April 2021. Militarisation in Colombia’s main cities and the brutal repression on the part of the police and military forces directly threaten human rights and the well-being of civil society in Colombia. The Colombian state has the obligation to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of assembly and association and freedom of speech, on the internet and on the streets.

According to reports from Temblores, between 6:00 a.m. on 28 April and 8:00 a.m. on 4 May 2021, in Colombia there have been 1,443 cases of police violence, 239 violent interventions by police forces, 56 official reports of disappearances in the context of mobilisations, 216 victims of physical violence perpetrated by the police, 21 victims of ocular injuries, 31 victims of homicidal violence, 814 arbitrary detentions of protesters, 77 cases of gunshots fired and 10 cases of sexual assault by the police forces.

In relation to the protection of rights in the digital context, we are concerned about the testimonies of local activists who point out that, in addition to the militarisation of cities and the abuse by the police and other security forces, there have been reports of seizure of digital devices, including equipment related to journalistic work, as well as aggression against journalists and independent reporters. 

Colombia has a disturbing history of wrongful surveillance of communications, which in the last few years has extended to the digital context. In 2020 a monitoring system implemented by the military was denounced, a system which had information on journalists, trade unionists and members of non-profit organisations. Last year it was revealed that the police were reportedly attempting to acquire software to monitor content and activity on social media. Currently, there are reports of wrongful exclusion of content on social media related to the protests and the impossibility of live streaming. There have also been complaints about suspicious account interventions and specialised organisations have reported internet shutdowns in Cali during the protests.

National organisations have already called attention to the pressing need to respect and protect social protests in and through digital spaces in the context of the current national strike and they are focused on assisting journalists and civil society organisations to protect their websites and their digital security.

The right to protest is protected by various international human rights instruments ratified by the Colombian state, like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. As recognised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, this right also applies to the digital context, because it allows public expression and participation in democratic societies.

It is very important for the Colombian people to be able to use digital technologies, particularly the internet, to coordinate actions on the ground, report on the protests in real time, denounce acts of police violence, access information from diverse sources, be able to communicate to protect their personal security, and ask for support, medical attention or any other sort of assistance. Any kind of state or private intervention aimed at restricting the free flow of information is a direct assault against the right to protest and other related rights, and it affects the access to information of millions of people who, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, depend on digital media.

Therefore, we call upon the government of Colombia to:

  • Immediately stop the excessive use of force on the part of the police and the army, to end the repression in the main and smaller cities of the country, and to comply with its responsibility to guarantee the right to protest.

  • Assure the free flow of information and establish all necessary guarantees so that independent media and citizens can do their work of covering the protests without obstructions.

  • Reinforce the rights of civilians so that they can use digital technology, which allows them to exercise their right to protest, online and offline.

  • Guarantee that the application of exceptional measures is carried out in total compliance with international and national human rights norms and in accordance with the principles of proportionality, necessity and non-discrimination.

  • Investigate the events related to the use of force by state security agents, following the call of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

We express our heartfelt solidarity with activists, human rights defenders, organisations and all the social actors in Colombia who, from different areas, have been resisting and working in the defence of democracy. It is unfortunate that, year after year, these types of atrocities still occur in our region. We will not rest until all the governments in Latin America can guarantee full protection of the human rights of the entire population.