SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 24, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):National University of Colombia

Region & Country:Americas | Colombia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 24, 2019, violence erupted during a protest at the National University of Colombia (NUC) campus in Bogata over planned government reforms.

In April 2019, the enactment of President Ivan Duque’s National Development Plan sparked large-scale country-wide protests. Critics have argued that the plan makes unacceptable cuts to already underfunded education and pension systems while also undermining the rights of workers. Trade union groups, including student and teachers’ groups, called for a two-day nationwide strike beginning on April 25 accompanied by “marches” in major cities across Colombia.

One day before the strike, demonstrators, including an unknown number of students, reportedly congregated in front of the NUC to protest the National Development Plan. Shortly thereafter, riot police, who were deployed to the protest site engaged in violent clashes with the protesters. According to video footage taken from the scene, individuals identified as the demonstrators threw explosive devices at police. Police reportedly responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. It is unclear, what sparked the clashes between police and protesters.

Following the protest, NUC officials canceled all campus activities for the rest of the day as a safety precaution.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by violence during a campus protest. While students and other groups have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they must exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure the security of higher education communities; however, they should also ensure that their response is proportional to the situation and does not endanger students or other demonstrators on campus. Violence during a campus protest endangers the higher education community and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy.