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LatinNews Daily - 24 September 2020

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COLOMBIA: Government defies supreme court ruling

On 23 September, Colombia’s Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo refused to comply with a supreme court (CSJ) ruling ordering the government to take action to guarantee the right to protest, and said he would challenge the ruling in the constitutional court (CC).

Analysis:

The CSJ ruling, issued the previous day, condemned “the systematic, violent, and arbitrary intervention of state security forces in demonstrations and protests”, and ordered the government to take a series of actions in response, most immediately for Trujillo to issue a formal apology, and for the national riot police (Esmad) to be prohibited from carrying 12-gauge shotguns. Trujillo’s defiance has stoked criticism from political opponents, who have accused the government of moving towards authoritarianism, and from judicial officials, who have claimed that appealing against the ruling will not prevent the government from being held in contempt of court once the 48-hour deadline for it to comply with the CSJ orders has passed.

  • The CSJ ruling came in response to 49 complaints of violence by state security forces (principally Esmad) against protesters between 2005 and 2019, but carries additional significance in the context of recent protests against police brutality, in which at least 13 civilians were killed after the police opened fire on protesters.
  • Trujillo responded yesterday by defending Esmad, claiming that its violent interventions came “exclusively in the face of violent criminal actions” by protesters, and insisting that any excesses that do occur should be understood not as evidence of structural failings in the state security forces, but rather as the “individual actions of some of its members”. He offered no apology, and pledged to challenge the ruling in the CC.
  • Opposition senator and 2018 presidential runner-up, Gustavo Petro, warned that the government was moving towards “dictatorship”, and emphasised that “if the government does not respect the CSJ’s ruling, it is committing a crime”. Prosecutor General Fernando Carrillo similarly maintained that “judicial decisions must be respected and fulfilled, even if they are not shared. This principle is the basis of the democratic rule of law”.

Looking Ahead: It remains to be seen whether the CC will admit Trujillo’s appeal, and whether the CSJ will take action to hold the government in contempt once the initial 48-hour deadline expires later today (24 September).