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Confronting COVID-19 in Colombia

Aaron Alfredo Acosta, Nelson Camilo Sánchez León, Mohammad Zia | Published on January 29, 2024

Project: Land Reform, Peace and Informal Institutions

Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Colombia in March 2020, prompting the government to declare a national health emergency and enact sweeping measures restricting movement and gatherings. Over 200 decrees, resolutions, and directives have been issued, raising concerns about human rights limitations. Measures include lockdowns, domestic travel bans, quarantines for vulnerable communities, virtual learning mandates, and cash transfer programmes. Litigation efforts by groups like Dejusticia aim to ensure constitutional rights are upheld, given Colombia’s history of abuse during states of exception. Looking ahead, the crisis will impact the peace process and economy. The policy brief provides an overview of Colombia’s multifaceted response and implications for rights, while previewing future challenges.

Key Findings

  • Colombia enacted over 200 legal measures in response to Covid-19, including lockdowns, travel bans, quarantines for vulnerable communities, and cash transfer programmes.
    • The large number of measures has raised concerns about potential overreach and limitations on human rights.
    • Most restrictive measures like lockdowns were enacted using “ordinary powers” instead of “exceptional powers”, which face less oversight. This increases the risk of abuse.
    • Groups like Dejusticia have filed litigation to ensure constitutional rights are protected, given Colombia’s history of abusing states of exception.
    • The COVID-19 crisis will have major impacts on Colombia’s peace process and economy going forward.

    Recommendations

    • Colombia should be careful to enact COVID-19 measures using “exceptional powers” rather than “ordinary powers” so they face proper oversight.
    • The Constitutional Court and Congress need to exercise timely review and oversight over COVID-19 measures to protect rights.
    • Access to information related to the pandemic should be prioritized and exempted from time extensions on resolving information requests.
    • Cash transfer and economic relief programs should prioritize the most poor and vulnerable populations.
    • Special care should be taken to avoid disproportionate impacts on marginalized groups like informal workers, rural communities, and human rights defenders.
    • As the crisis evolves, attention should shift to impacts on the peace process and fiscal policy.