A British delegation of students and academics was present at the student protest and witnessed the violent police methods. The members of the delegation have committed themselves to working with students and staff at Valle University to campaign for Jhonny's killers to be brought to justice. The Colombian state has an extremely poor record of investigating and prosecuting the crimes of the public forces and paramilitaries.
Historically in Colombia, public universities were an allocated space for autonomous higher education that encourages alternative ideas and solutions and critical thought independent from the government control; today the public university is being “cleansed” of all traces of activities that are perceived to present a challenge to the current political and economic system. As a result, staff, teachers, students that are involved in social, political and human rights related activities are being persecuted and live in constant fear for their lives.
On the 22nd of September, the delegation was attending talks at the Universidad del Valle, Cali. This was also the day that the government was due to sign ALCA the free trade agreement with America. Many of the students campaign against the privatisation of universities that ALCA would entail.
In an act of peaceful protest, the students of the UniValle had assembled on the campus grounds. Shortly afterwards, the Colombian Police arrived at the gates of the university and began making provocative calls to the students, and throwing small grenades and tear gas at the students. This continued all afternoon until night fell, at this point the delegation was advised to leave for their personal safety.
Shortly afterwards, the Police entered the university (which is illegal in Colombian law) and began firing live ammunition at the students. The Colombian students remained and ran away from the fire, but one student, Jhonny Silva was shot and died on arrival at the hospital.
The UK delegation is committed to ensure that the Colombian government investigates this crime and that Jhonny’s killer is brought to justice. It is estimated that 95% of crimes in Colombia are never investigated. We hope to raise awareness of the human rights situation in Colombia and lobby the Colombian government so that this crime is acknowledged and investigated.
Please come and join us outside the embassy for as long a time as you can spare. Bring banners, drums, musical instruments, etc.
Tuesday 22 November 2005. 3pm to 9pm.
Colombian Embassy in London,
3 Hans Crescent, London SW1
(behind Harrods, Knightsbridge tube).