Colombia has faced deeply unsettling times in recent weeks, with reports that protests over proposed government tax reforms were being met with excessive force by security forces. Human rights groups have reported the use of tear gas and live ammunition by riot police to disperse demonstrators. On 4th May the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) expressed profound shock at the situation, and on 13th May, the Guardian newspaper reported the death of at least 47 people across the country. Many others have been injured.

The situation in Cali, where Fight for Peace Alliance member organisation SIDOC Foundation is based, has been particularly concerning. In the midst of these most difficult times, we talked to SIDOC Project Coordinator Alexander Rincon and Fight for Peace Alliance Programme Manager Carolina Velasquez, about how staff and young people are dealing with the current situation, and how solidarity among fellow organisations is providing a source of support:

Alexander Rincon:  “SIDOC Foundation is a non-profit organisation focused on strengthening social, economic, political, urban, and environmental inclusion, particularly in areas experiencing high levels violence and exclusion. In order to reach these goals, we deliver sport, music, and inclusion programmes in support of young people in the community.

The current situation in Colombia has had a direct impact on our young people, our community, and our organisation. Official figures have shown that our community of Siloé has been one of the strongest protest points in the country and many young people have joined demonstrations in protest at policies which increase poverty and add pressure on underrepresented communities like ours. 

As a result of confrontations between protesters and police, a number of people have died and been injured by firearms. The situation has generated a lot of panic within the community, with shooting in the places where protests are taking place, helicopter flights until late at night and shortages of food.

We’ve seen lots of solidarity among young people as they mobilise in defence of human rights and in rejection of abuse by security forces. And, where violence and excessive force has made protests unsafe for many, we’ve seen young people join alternative activities, like education workshops on human rights, non-violence and protecting life. 

At SIDOC, we have been supporting young people through this situation in a number of ways, creating education spaces for young people and children to come together and learn about rights and protest, strengthening community canteens serving food to demonstrators, working with human rights organisations to follow up on violations, and working on the ground in areas where shootings take place to reduce tensions and open spaces for mediation between the police and demonstrators.”

Carolina Velasquez, Fight for Peace Alliance Programme Manager, added to Alexander’s comments by highlighting how action between Alliance member organisations in Colombia has been significant during these difficult past weeks:

Carolina Velasquez: “Over the course of the demonstrations and following the reaction of police and security forces, Fight for Peace Alliance partners in Colombia have been sharing information on the situation across different regions of the country. As things have been more difficult in Cali, there has been a lot of interest from Alliance member organisations in other parts of Colombia in understanding what is happening and how to help.

From the beginning of the protests, partners have been sharing their personal and professional expertise and that has been vital, not just in supporting each other but in providing practical support such as mental health support for their young people and tools for human rights advocacy. As the Alliance Programme Manager, these Colombian organisations have also inspired me and helped me to take individual actions to help and to raise awareness of the situation.”

Fight for Peace stands alongside SIDOC and all of our Alliance partners in Colombia at this particularly difficult time, and alongside all of those who have lost their lives, and those families they leave behind. We stand firmly against any abuse of human rights and join the United Nations Human Rights Office in calling for State authorities to honour 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.

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