International accompaniment during national protest in Bogota

We felt emotionally moved after spending the day at the national protest in the heart of the Colombian capital.

On the 17th of March 2016 a national protest took place in Colombia. The aims were to demand greater equality in economic policy, greater sovereignty over Colombian natural resources and social justice in the context of a peace agreement being signed between the government and the FARC guerrilla group.

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In Bogota approximately 15,000 people took part in the demonstration.  Photo: Leonardo Villamizar

In Bogota approximately 15,000 people took part in the demonstration, amongst them, several organisations that PBI accompanies. These organisations also coordinate the training process for the human rights teams who are in charge of overseeing the fulfilment of the protesters’ civil rights. This was the result of months of dialogue with civil authorities and security forces, work that was promoted by the campaign “Liberty an issue for all of us” of which several human rights organisations participated. According to Franklin Castañeda, president of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee (FCSPP), since these human rights commissions have been implemented civil rights violations have reduced.

At 8.30am on the corner of Carrera 7 and 13th Street, one of the ‘hottest’ places in these types of demonstrations, is where we were meeting with the members of FCSPP that we were going to be accompanying throughout the day. We are inspired by their professionalism and their dedication to the defence of human rights, as well as their ability to enjoy the moments that we are experiencing, always with a good sense of humour.

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Presentation of the human rights commission and PBI to the Colombian security forces; Photo: FCSPP

After PBI and the human rights commissions had presented themselves to the security forces present on every block of the Carrera 7 up until the Plaza Bolivar, the march started. It was very inspiring to see so much diversity in the sectors of the population who were all united for the same cause.  Due to our role as observers, and therefore of non-interference, sometimes it is difficult not to participate, especially when emotionally one supports the struggle in which the people are involved in.

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The demonstration went to plan until the arrival at the main square. There the situation became tense due to the presence of a group of troublemakers that apparently was not connected to any of the sectors of civil society represented in the march. We noticed that in the middle of these confrontations between this group and the security forces, a group of musicians spontaneously put themselves between them, as some kind of human shield, pleading for non-violence through the medium of their instruments. Likewise, the human rights team that we were accompanying tried to dissuade the young troublemakers from continuing with their violent attitude.

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Finally, the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) decided to act and something happened that made us admire the professionalism and humanity of the people we were accompanying, as one of them, Franklin, approached the ESMAD asking for calm and that they refrain from interfering. He was armed only with his “Human Rights” vest and his voice.

The day came to a close. It was 5.00pm and we bid farewell to the activity and to the inspiring people whose adrenaline-filled work we got to know at close quarters.

Lara and Delphine

Footnotes
  1. Decree 563 (21st of December 2015): “For which it is adopted the Protocol of Conduct for Social Protests in Bogota: For the Right to Demonstration and Peaceful Protest”

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