March against tax reform in Cali, Colombia on May 1, 2021. Photo by Remux. Licensed under CC By-NC_SA 4.0.

March against tax reform in Cali, Colombia on May 1, 2021. Photo by Remux. Licensed under CC By-NC_SA 4.0.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders are calling on the government of Colombia to “respect the fundamental rights” of people as they seek solutions to continued unrest in the country. Poverty and the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in growing protests from people who feel their voices are not being heard by the government.

Since April 28, demonstrators have spoken out against tax reform and other economic and social measures. In response, there have been reports of more than 1,000 alleged police abuses against demonstrators that have resulted in injuries as well as a few deaths. Demonstrators have retaliated against law enforcement including damage to a number of police stations in Bogota.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), led a delegation to Colombia shortly after becoming Stated Clerk in 2016. He met with leaders in Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia to learn more about the efforts to seek peace in a region that has been at war for more than 50 years.

Nelson and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, have released a joint statement urging the Colombian government to halt abuses against those who seek change. They have also called on the Biden administration to suspend aid to forces involved in human rights violations.

See the statement below.

With great sorrow and frustration, we have seen the reports and images of the violent repression of the protests connected to the national strike in Colombia over the past few days. Videos circulating suggest an alarming disrespect for the principle of proportionality, which is foundational to the operations of state forces. Far from correcting the excesses of the police in response to protests last year, the government has opted to militarize its reaction to the current manifestations of the people’s profound discontent. 

We call on the government of President Iván Duque, asking him to immediately halt the abuses and communicate the responsibility of the state forces to respect the fundamental rights of the people, including the right to protest, and to set a space for true dialogue with the groups that participate in the national strike. 

We also call on the Congress and the administration to urge Colombia’s government to order its security forces to respect international law and human rights. And we call on the Biden administration to suspend aid to the current forces who are committing gross human rights violations.

We pray for the families who weep for the victims of violence in these days. May God illumine us with God’s love and wisdom that we might offer ourselves in the service of justice and transform the daily reality of the Colombian people. 

J. Herbert Nelson Signature

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The exhibit also can be seen in the society’s courtyard. Photo by Kristen Gaydos.

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins
Associate Director of Advocacy
Presbyterian Mission Agency