Colombia: Global education movement condemns abuses of basic human rights

published 6 May 2021 updated 13 October 2023

Education International and its affiliates around the globe are deeply concerned about the brutal repression of protests in Colombia. The global trade union federation demands democratic governance of the country and urges public authorities to put a halt to human rights abuses.

Protests started in Colombia on 28 April, mainly in opposition to a now-shelved tax reform. The proposed reform would have lowered the threshold at which salaries are taxed, affecting anyone with a monthly income of 2.6m pesos ($684) or more. It would also have eliminated many of the current exemptions enjoyed by individuals, as well as increasing taxes imposed on businesses. The proposal caused outrage among Colombians already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing protests have been joined by many middle-class people who fear the changes could see them slip into poverty.

UN: Concern over measures deployed by Colombia's security forces

On 4 May, Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the UN had received reports of human rights defenders being harassed and threatened, as well as protesters being injured and even killed in the city of Cali. “We are deeply alarmed at developments in the city of Cali in Colombia overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people.”

Hurtado added that the UN also stressed “that law enforcement officers should abide by the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality when policing demonstrations. Firearms can only be used as a measure of last resort against an imminent threat to life or of serious injury”.

Colombia's ombudsman announced that at least 19 people had died during a week of unrest over proposed tax reforms.

Global Union Federations: Military and police actions condemned

The Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE), an Education International member organisation, has joined other unions in peaceful protests in Bogota and across Colombia seeking the withdrawal of the draft tax law. It also reiterated its demands to the government for decent conditions for educators to return to school in presential mode

The Global Union Federations (GUFs) group and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) have all also expressed alarm at the actions of the military and police forces in Colombia. “The violent response to the protests that have been organised by the National Strike Committee since April 28 have already caused dozens of deaths, injuries and hundreds of people have been arrested and even disappeared,” they said. Their condemnation of these actions was outlined in a letter, dated 4 May, sent to Antonia Urrejola Noguera, president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Call for high-level interventions

The GUFs and TUCA said they were “deeply alarmed by the brutal and atrocious events that have occurred in Colombia over the last few days and we declare our total rejection of armed violence in the country against its own citizens”.

The signatory unions are jointly requesting the immediate and urgent intervention of the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS).

Education International will continue to monitor closely the situation of human and trade union rights in Colombia and stands in support of its affiliate FECODE.