On February 21, 2020, during a sit-in in front of the Distrital University in Bogota, a group of hooded individuals clashed with members of the National Police of Colombia’s anti-Riot Squad known as ESMAD. ESMAD officers dispersed the individuals with tear gas.
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 21, during a sit-in seeking to increase the Distrital University’s budget, hooded individuals threw stones from within the university and formed barricades to block traffic, leading to the university’s evacuation. ESMAD officers reportedly used stun guns and tear gas to disperse the individuals. Eight individuals were injured; one media report indicated that five individuals were detained.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a campus protest. While students and civil society have a rights 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