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: October 10, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Caldas University | Industrial University of Santander | Manizales National University | National University | Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia | Technological Institute of Antioquia | University of Antioquia

Region & Country:Americas | Colombia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 10, 2019, riot police reportedly violently clashed with and arrested students from various universities during national student protests.

Students from various higher education institutions across Colombia held protests challenging corruption in universities and demanding the dismantling of the Mobile Anti-Rioting Squad (ESMAD) over allegations of police brutality.

In the city of Bucaramanga, ESMAD officers violently confronted student protesters from the Industrial University of Santander (IUS), injuring at least two students, and detaining one. On the IUS campus, ESMAD officers also reportedly clashed with unidentified, hooded individuals who were armed with rocks.

At the Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia (UPTC), ESMAD officers reportedly fired tear gas and stun grenades at students holding a sit-in, injuring at least four. ESMAD officers also reportedly arrested five students.

During a demonstration in Bogotá, ESMAD officers reportedly violently attacked students from various universities.

In Medellin, students from various universities, including University of Antioquia (UA), Technological Institute of Antioquia (ITM), and National University, marched from ITM to La Alpujarra Administrative Center, a city government building, and then to UA. Once students arrived at UA, they were confronted by ESMAD officers who clashed violently with them; fired tear gas, stun guns, and rubber bullets; injured at least fifteen students, and arrested several others.

In Manizales, police reportedly arrested a number of student protesters from Manizales National University and Caldas University.

And in Cali, ESMAD officers reportedly attacked students from various universities participating in a sit-in at a bus station.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force against and detention of students in retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Colombia is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom and harm democratic society generally.