Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, took the opportunity of the appearance of the Colombian Ambassador to Ireland, Ms. Patricia Cortés Ortiz, and her colleague Mr. Emilio José Archila Penalosa, the Presidential Counsellor for Stabilisation and Consolidation before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, to raise a series of questions relating to the recent protests in Colombia against tax reforms impacting on low and middle income earners.
The protests have resulted in considerable state violence against protestors, and difficulties in the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement in Colombia.
Teachta Brady said:
“I welcome the opportunity offered through the appearance of Ambassador Cortés Ortiz, and Mr. Archilla Penalosa to raise some serious questions relating to ongoing protests and the difficulties in the peace process.
“While the huge crowds that have taken to the streets in Colombia since April 28 in protest at regressive tax reform plans, which would have had a hugely disproportionate impact on the lower and middle classes, there was also considerable frustration and anger amongst protestors over failure by the Colombian government to address public demands over growing poverty, corruption, the campaign of murder against human rights defenders and social activists, and the failure to fully implement the 2016 peace agreement.
“The government response to the protests has proven to be astonishingly violent.
“We have seen the videos and have heard and read eye-witness accounts of a litany of abuses against protestors. Including, the shooting dead of civilians, arbitrary beatings and arrests, the indiscriminate use of tear gas, often in enclosed spaces, the firing of gas canisters into peoples faces at point blank range, leaving a number of individuals blinded.
“In a number of instances, we have witnessed individuals identified to be plain clothes police officers shooting indiscriminately into crowds, sometimes in the company of uniformed police.
“There have also been reports of sexual assaults being carried out by police, and I am aware of one horrific incident where a young girl of 17 years of age, took her own life after one such assault by police. She had previously been videoed being carried aloft by Colombian police officers into a police station screaming that the officers were removing her trousers.
“Human rights groups report that between 18 April and 21 May, 43 people were killed by state forces, there have been 1,264 arbitrary arrests, and 21 cases of sexual assault.
“Hundreds of individuals have also been reported missing following their arrests.
“I have stressed the fact that there is an urgent need for full information on all people who have been officially arrested and released to enable clarification, and an immediate investigation to all of those currently reported missing.
“I want to add my voice to the litany of international groups and countries who have condemned this violence, who have appealed for restraint from the Colombian authorities.But there is a need to go further.
“The violence around the protests is only part of larger picture of state repression, and lawlessness.
“Since the start of 2021, close to 50 social activists have been killed in Colombia. The UN Verification Mission has stated that 133 human rights defenders killed in 2020, 117 in 2019, and115 in 2018.
“In a report published in February, the UN Human Rights Commissioner (OHCHR) found state agents committed at least 73 killings of civilians in 2020.
“Since the peace agreement of 2016, which the current Colombian leader President Duque opposed, over 260 FARC former combatants have been killed.
“We absolutely need to see a full implementation of the Colombian peace agreement, with full autonomy for the Court of Justice, a guarantee of safety for former combatants, along with a full implementation of the public policy to dismantle paramilitary successor groups.”