On February 19, 2020, outside of the Pedagogical University in Bogota, student protesters and members of the National Police of Colombia’s anti-Riot Squad known as ESMAD reportedly clashed violently.
Beginning on November 21, 2019, students, labor unions, indigenous groups, and members of civil society had held a series of nationwide anti-government protests. The protesters’ demands included more funding for public education and the dismantling of 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 19, the students had gathered outside the campus of the Pedagogical University in Bogota to demand increased funding for higher education and raise concerns around corruption and resource management at the institution. The protest escalated into a riot between protesters and ESMAD members, with hooded individuals reportedly throwing objects, including Molotov cocktails, from within the university into the street. It is not clear from public reporting who started the confrontation.
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.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED): https://acleddata.com/#/dashboard