Colombia: University Officials Harass Those Suspected Of Being Gay

Guards at Universidad de Antioquía, a public university in Medellín, Colombia, have engaged in harassment against students and visitors who are or appear to be gay. IGLHRC joins Comunidad Gay Universitaria, the LGBT students' association, and the local gay organization Amigos Comunes, in calling for letters of protest to university authorities. The university is not a special, morally protected sphere separate from the public sphere. It is a microcosm of the public world: the rights of all members of the public must be guaranteed within it--not just as a legal necessity, but also as an example and as part of the open work that is education.

Please write to University authorities, demanding an end to harassment and discrimination. Write to:

Secretaría General

Please also send copies to:


Dear Sir:

Comunidad Gay Universitaria, a group of gay students at University of Antioquía, report that those who are known or perceived to be gay are repeatedly stopped by University personnel. They are singled out from other entrants by being asked to show their student ID in order to be allowed to remain inside the campus. Visitors are immediately forced out, in a humiliating way: they are escorted to the door by an employee, as if they had committed a crime.

Students also report incidents of verbal and physical abuse against them and their visitors, on the part of University personnel. Those affected are often reluctant to publicize the incidents: they have been subjected to anonymous threats, as well as intimidating posters plastered around campus, which vilify the head of the student gay group by name.

Colombia is presently in a state of violent civil conflict, sponsored both by paramilitary organizations and by a State military armed and partly directed by larger geopolitical forces. Under such circumstances, Comunidad Gay Universitaria fears that violence may invade all public spaces under the State's control. It fears that an atmosphere of "social cleansing," of stigmatization and exclusion, has been created in the University. It fears that discrimination will spread unless stopped. The University of Antioquia is a public institution, with a responsibility to remain open to that public. Anyone should be able to enter its premises without fear of harassment, unless there is substantive reason to fear their behavior will damage the institution's property or members.

We write to urge you immediately to conduct a full investigation into these complaints, taking all necessary measures to protect the identities of those who allege mistreatment on the part of University personnel, and to apply administrative or other relevant sanctions to those found guilty of discrimination and abuse against gay students or visitors.

In doing so, you will be honoring the Colombian Constitution and Colombia's judicial tradition. The Colombian Constitutional Court has repeatedly set legal precedents of global impact in holding that basic human rights cannot be infringed on the grounds of sexual orientation. As the Court stated, citing Articles 14 and 16 of the Colombian Constitution, in one case (C. 98-96; Case 96 from 1998):
"From a Constitutional point of view, homosexual behavior has the character of valid and legitimate personal manifestations, tendencies, orientations and options. Sexuality, heterosexual as well as homosexual, is an essential component of the human person ... The person in its integrity is constitutionally protected through the right to personality and its free development." On the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Court has stated (C 491-98; Case 491, from 1998): "According to the Constitution and human rights treaties, it is evident that homosexuality can not be considered an illness, nor an abnormal pathology to be cured or fought against, but a legitimate sexual orientation, an essential and intimate element of a person's identity and as such enjoys special constitutional protection ..... Any language aimed at stigmatizing a person because of her/his sexual orientation is then unconstitutional and explicitly rejected by this Court. On the same line, any difference in treatment based in a different sexual orientation equals a possible discrimination based on sex and is subjected to strict constitutional control." Most relevantly, commenting on homosexuality in the military forces and educational institutions, the Court has affirmed that "Punishing a person for reasons deriving from her/his homosexuality must not be based on a moral judgement, not even in the hypothetical probability that the institution might be damaged, but in clear and objective damage caused" (C-097-94; Case 97, from 1994).

International human rights treaties ratified by Colombia also protect the right of education for all human beings without discrimination whatsoever -- as well as the concept that "Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms" (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13.1). Tolerating discriminatory and violent acts committed by University personnel against students teaches the regrettable lesson that such behavior is acceptable. Neither dignity nor justice is furthered by such a pedagogy of the oppressor.

As head of a public educational institution, we hope you will pursue your duty to ensure that "higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity" (ICESCR, Article 13.2.c). You can do this by creating an environment where all students can feel safe and respected, without discrimination of any kind.



The right to education is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Article 26 and by the ICESCR in its Article 13.

The rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association are protected by the UDHR in its Articles 19 and 20 and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 19, 21, 22.

The right to participate in the cultural life of the community is protected by the UDHR (Article 27)

Discrimination based on status is barred by the UDHR (Articles 1 and 2), ICCPR (Article 2 and 26), and ACHR (Article 2). These provisions do not expressly mention "sexual orientation": however, the United Nations Human Rights Committee held in the 1994 case Toonen v Australia that the ICCPR's anti-discrimination provisions should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status.

The UDHR is considered binding on all member States of the United Nations in customary international law. In addition, Colombia has ratified both the ICCPR and ICESCR.