Colombian Human Rights in the Digital Age

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Workshop: Colombian Human Rights in the Digital Age


This CKS Workshop will cover Colombian Human Rights in the Digital Age.

Join us for a collaborative discussion about the current situation in Colombia. The protests and punitive and violent measures against citizens are still happening, but little news is leaving the country. Our featured presenters will discuss:

  • Social media content blocking during the latest Colombian national strike
  • Internet censorship in Colombia, what they have documented
  • Open source tools for journalists
  • Ciberpatrullaje, mass surveillance made by the government during the protests.
  • Keep the #SOSColombia alive. This means sharing information about the situation of violations of human rights in Colombia and the call for international accompaniment.
  • Propose collaborations to colombian NGO and groups of activists from different areas (communications, artist, students). Our capacities are exceeded so we need help to develop emergency "digital security training", to provide digital security tools like VPNs, safe clouds, etc.

In addition, the presenters will address the myths and fears of the Colombian community regarding inhabiting digital spaces and digitally protesting. They will also discuss the current needs, including amplified digital security and collective digital care, and how the current context is affecting a diversity of groups such as journalists, civil society leaders, campesinos and indigenous collectives, including those from small cities.

// We will be hosting a 20 minute post-workshop networking exercise to allow folks to meet others who share their interest, and strengthen collaborations across various lines. Make sure to schedule in 20 minutes extra on your calendar, if you are interested in joining //

Santiago Sáenz is a Colombian hacker currently studying CS at National University of Colombia. I work as Cyber Security adviser for Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP).

María Juliana is a professor, a consultant, and a content creator for communications and visual arts projects. She works at the intersection of technology, human rights, communications, and digital culture with projects like Noís Radio, Acoso.Online, and Tour Delirio.

Nathaly Espitia Díaz’s work lies in the intersection of technology, human rights, communication, culture and social change. She is a content creator, a communication and advocacy strategist. Currently the Community Engagement specialist at Internews. Also part of Noís Radio, member of Ciberseguras and one of the Regional Organizer for Team Community. She mainly works with indigenous, afro and campesinos communities.

>> Check out notes from other sessions here


  • The story of what's happening in Colombia is not leaving the country’s borders. The government has cracked down on those who have tried to speak up about censorship and human rights violations.
  • Latin America Meetup: To stay up to date on what is happening inside of Colombia, tune into our regular community meetings on digital security, mental health check-ins, and listen to music. Please check out the Latin America regional group on the IFF Mattermost.

History / Backstory

  • Elizabeth Dickinson, senior Colombia analyst at the International Crisis Group, noted that while the "crisis in Colombia is deep, the crisis in Cali is deeper"
  • Dickinson’s thread on Twitter (in English) is good to understand a little bit more the situation in Cali
  • These demonstrations against the social and economic policies of president Iván Duque Márquez started in April 2021 with massive participation of the people. The Colombian government’s response to these protests has been state violence.
  • According to a report of Human Rights Watch, there have been 31 deaths of demonstrators or bystanders, at least 20 of whom appear to have been killed by the police. According to HRW, credible evidence indicates that the police killed at least 16 protesters or bystanders with live ammunition fired from firearms, Human Rights Watch found. Over 1000 protesters have been injured since April 28, 2021.
  • This feels different than past protests against the government. This time the violence has gone into dense urban cities, which is a new issue. In the cities, there was always informal state-sponsored violence, but never this level of militarized battles in the streets of Cali and Bogota.
  • Press identification is no longer a guarantee for safety as the images of police brutality coming from journalists is horrifying.
  • Many young protestors who have faced classism, racism and lack of opportunities are willing to fight until the end, because, as we see from folks in Cali, who are the most oppressed, are also the poorest and are home to the country’s majority of afro-colombians.
  • There are so many afro-colombians in Cali. Many people are aware and following the BLM movement and a lot of the movements you are seeing are linked with the afro-colombian diaspora around the world.
  • Understanding the racism and classism at the heart of Colombia’s protests is key to understand the current situation.

Violence Against Journalists, Press

  • From April - June 2021: more than 230 documented instances of violence against members of the press.
  • More than half of these aggressions against the press was instigated by police or the military forces.
  • In Colombia, even with long-history of violence, there is still no precedent of intense violence against the press and protestors.
  • Numbers being tracked here by Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa.
  • Open data about the agresions here.


  • This is the first time activists and Colombian citizens are being surveilled in this way and are not prepared to protect themselves against the surveillance, or circumvent it.
  • Ciberpatrullaje (cyber-patrolling) is a term conveying the operation of mass surveillance, led by the government during the protests.
  • This surveillance has led to self-censorship as well.
  • There’s a common narrative that the government has been painting of protesters and activists as horrible people that the population needs to be protected against.
    • From November 2019 at the beginning of the strike, the government has been saying that the people responsible for leading the strikes are "cyber-terrorists". Government-sponsored cyber-patrols are surveilling civilian content on social media and reporting it as disinformation, which is in turn is tagged as “sensitive content” on platforms and limiting its reach.
    • Grassroots media projects and independent journalism is being banned from platforms such as FB, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, but it is not helping, same situation as what is happening in Palestine.
    • The government’s narrative is publishing disinformation and misinformation about protesters, but also putting focus on the country’s economic loss because of the protests (500k$ according to them). In contrast, the government is not talking about the loss of civilian lives, only about police lives.
  • Social media posts in favor of the strike are flagged and tracked, leading to profiling. Colombians in our community are needing to pay special attention to this state-sponsored tactic because profiling and this type of censorship is also happening in other places like Palestine.

The Internet Measurements and What Can this Community do to Help

  • Help them pass through this censorship and bans from the platforms, they are already trying to find tricks (unrelated hashtags or emojis), but they could use some support from allies outside of the country.
  • Amplify the correct information about state-sponsored violence and civilian censorship and make sure this information is relayed outside the country. Protesters are still being murdered.
  • Please use the hashtags #SOSColombia, and #SOSColombiaNosEstanMatando. Colombians are looking for international support using these hashtags. Be aware that these anti-government hashtags often are targeted or censored, so there are variations popping up every few days.
  • Nois Radio is supporting the digital and human rights defenders in Colombia. Nois produces and broadcasts alternative communications about human rights coming from voices in the streets and activists on the frontlines.
  • At the beginning of the protests, there was a statement by 100+ orgs around the world (Karisma, APC etc.) to ask social media platforms to stop banning protests information, but they said it was not specific to Colombia and nothing happened. Karisma created a way to report censorship to them to report to the platforms. Several NGOs are trying to change that, but we need more support to make this change.
  • Activists on social media keep being identified as robots because they put a lot of information and the content that is tagged as sensitive. Even people with direct contact at FB could not make any change on that.
  • Most of the information that is coming from the protests are coming from citizen journalists in the street and they all get these issues and have no way to get in touch with social media platforms. The process to report these issues to platforms is awful, you have to report it to a webpage and then you never get an answer and it is not even taken into account by FB. It is a mix between suspicious behaviour detection by FB and coordinated action under government pressure.
  • Call your congressperson, or senator and tell your government (especially in the US/Europe) to stop funding the armed forces in Colombia.
  • We think we will see more marches in the streets in the next few days. The street blockades by protesters represent a new ecosystem and a new phenomenon of social protests and organizations that have this combination of hope, anger and indignation. There have been collective street art of resistance, like this monument that has been just inaugurated, a hand that symbolizes unity and resistance.

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