On April 23, 2021, police stormed the Universidad del Valle campus and fired tear gas at student protesters in an effort to evict them from campus.
Student protesters occupied administrative facilities at the Universidad del Valle seeking academic guarantees that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as providing technical equipment so students can engage in remote learning.
On April 22, the governor of Valle del Cauca, Clara Luz Roldán, and the rector of the university, Édgar Varela, invited students to meet and asked them to leave campus peacefully. Available sources do not indicate whether a meeting took place prior to the arrival of police.
Around 6 AM on April 23, police arrived on campus to remove the students before they were able to speak to the university administration. Governor Roldán and Varela reportedly made a joint decision to send the police to remove students from campus.
According to Varela, police attempted to urge the students to peacefully evacuate the premises. Video footage from the police raid shows students standing under an outdoor overhang in front of a building at the university when a line of police officers descends on the students and begins firing tear gas. One report by Infobae noted that stun grenades were also used. Available sources do not indicate that students responded with violence.
Following the event, Varela defended his actions, saying that the occupying students had prevented access to the university to other students and university administrators. Students took to social media to denounce the actions of the rector and police. They further reported that several students were injured.
On May 7, 2021, the Governor Roldán and the Academic Council of the university held an open dialogue and invited student protesters to speak about the events of the protest. Governor Roldán issued an apology to students for what happened, noting that the students had protested peacefully and without damage to university property.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of tear gas and other force in response to a nonviolent, on-campus student protest. While state authorities have a right to maintain public order and safety, they should refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent, responsible expressive activity or assemblies, refrain from the use of force, and ensure that their response is proportionate to the situation and does not result in harm to students or other protesters. Likewise, students have a responsibility to exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force, especially when intended to restrict on-campus student expression, undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.