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: February 12, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):National University of Colombia at Medellin

Region & Country:Americas | Colombia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 12, 2020, at the National University of Colombia at Medellin, Mobile Anti-Rioting Squad (ESMAD) officers reportedly clashed violently with hooded individuals following a student demonstration. 

Beginning on November 21, 2019, students, labor unions, indigenous groups, and members of civil society had held a series of nation-wide anti-government protests. The protesters’ demands included more funding for public education and the dismantling of the National Police of Colombia’s anti-Riot Squad known as ESMAD. Protesters and rights groups alleged that, since the protests began, ESMAD used excessive force against the protesters, including beatings and the abusive use of “less-than-lethal” weapons.

On February 12, a student demonstration on the National University in Medellin campus reportedly escalated into a riot, though it is unclear what triggered the escalation. Medellin’s mayor authorized ESMAD officers to enter the campus, and ordered students, professors, and administrative staff to evacuate. 

A number of hooded individuals remained on campus, detonating explosives and clashing with ESMAD officers, who fired tear gas at them. Outside the university, three protesters were injured by a car that failed to stop at a checkpoint outside the university. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a campus protest. While students and civil society have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. State authorities are likewise obligated to ensure the security of higher education communities, and to refrain from violent or disproportionate actions which endanger members of the higher education community. Such violence threatens academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society in general.