On June 27, 2019, violence erupted at the National University of Colombia’s Medellin campus during a demonstration against recent assassinations of social activists in Colombia.
On June 26, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) convened in Medellin. During one General Assembly session, the OAS secretary general reportedly made comments that appeared to praise the Colombian government for promoting peace and social justice and cited statistics that suggested that the country’s homicide rate had decreased. The remarks angered many groups who claimed that the statistics cited by the secretary general were incorrect and that Colombia had experienced a spike in murders of activists.
On June 27, a group of individuals reportedly demonstrated outside the National University of Colombia in Medellin and shouted slogans against the OAS and the “murder of social activists.” It is unclear if or how many demonstrators were students at the university. Given recent violent clashes between demonstrators and police, university administrators suspended activities at the university for the day and called for an evacuation of the campus.
Anti-riot police reportedly deployed vehicles at the university’s two main gates before all university students and staff were able to comply with the evacuation order. Police reportedly fired tear gas canisters at individuals inside and outside the campus’ gates, affecting demonstrators, students and faculty not involved in the protests, and individuals living in a nearby residential neighborhood. Police and protesters reportedly clashed violently, but the exact nature of the clashes remains unclear.
Traffic near the university was reportedly disrupted for several hours, and university administrators claimed that the violence resulted in damage to university property.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a campus protest. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure security and order, they should also ensure that their response is proportional to the situation and does not endanger students or others on campus or interfere with peaceful expressive activity. Likewise, while students and other groups have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they must exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly..Violence during a campus protest endangers the higher education community and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy.