As new mobilizations are called in Colombia, Human Rights Watch found that of the 34 people killed in the context of the protests, which began on April 28, at least 20 “appear to have died at the hands of the police.” The organization highlighted in its report that it has “credible evidence” that the police shot the protesters with “live ammunition.” In turn, HRW called for urgent police reform to prevent further abuses.
In Colombia, the relationship with the authority is fragmented. This Wednesday, June 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that the Police could be responsible for the death of at least 20 people during the anti-government demonstrations that began on April 28.
In the report, HRW claims to have “credible evidence” indicating that police officers killed 16 protesters with “live ammunition fired from firearms.” The organization highlights that “in the vast majority of these cases, the victims had gunshot wounds to vital organs, such as the thorax or the head.”
The NGO confirmed a total of 34 deaths in the context of the protests, including those of two policemen, a CTI official and 31 protesters or bystanders. Regarding the perpetrators, HRW states that “armed people in civilian clothes have also attacked protesters” and killed five of them.
“The human rights violations committed by the Colombian police are not isolated incidents of undisciplined agents, but the result of profound structural failures,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
** New report **
Colombian police officers have committed brutal abuses against protesters.
We have documented 20 homicides and cases of sexual assault, violent beatings, and arbitrary detentions.
A deep reform of the Police is urgently needed. https://t.co/fgMUaIUq5j
– José Miguel Vivanco (@JMVivancoHRW) June 9, 2021
The demonstrations that began on April 28 called for the withdrawal of a controversial tax reform proposed by the government of Iván Duque, but later turned into petitions on economic inequality, unemployment, the lack of adequate public services and police violence.
According to Vivanco, in Colombia “a comprehensive reform is needed that clearly separates the police from the Army and guarantees adequate supervision and accountability to guarantee that these violations do not happen again.” The NGO representative added that they have documented during this period of demonstrations “deaths committed directly by the police, as well as violent beatings, sexual abuse and arbitrary detentions of protesters and bystanders.”
For the report, the organization interviewed more than 150 people in 25 cities in Colombia, including victims, relatives, lawyers, witnesses, as well as officials from the Ombudsman’s Office and human rights defenders. The organization held meetings with the vice president of Colombia, Marta Ramírez, who is also the chancellor, the director of the Police and the attorney general.
The document, which indicates “very serious abuses against protesters”, mostly peaceful, had the support of renowned forensic experts, who prepared opinions on the evidence of abuse and are part of the Independent Forensic Expert Group, IFEG), as well as the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).
HRW received complaints of 68 deaths that occurred since the start of the National Strike calls, through local organizations such as Temblores and the coalition of human rights organizations Defender la Libertad, who have documented the events at the local level.
The organization recognizes that, despite the fact that most of the protests took place in a peaceful manner, they also registered acts of violence by some individuals, such as the burning of police stations and the attack by uniformed men, two of whom have died.
Forensics: shots were with “Intent to kill”
HRW found that the majority of the fatalities sustained injuries to vital organs that, according to experts, “are consistent with having been caused with the intent to kill.”
Among those killed by the police is Kevin Agudelo, who died during a peaceful demonstration on May 3 in Cali, a city in southwestern Colombia, recognized as one of the epicenters of the protests. Several witnesses testified that riot police fired stun bombs and tear gas to clear roadblocks made by protesters, prompting protesters to respond by throwing stones.
Agudelo had hidden behind a pole, ran along with another protester, but a witness said he saw a police officer shoot Agudelo from a short distance and that it sounded like live ammunition. The other protester was also injured. According to the report, forensic experts concluded that they were compatible with live ammunition shots.
“The Colombian authorities must carry out prompt, independent and rigorous investigations into all cases of police abuse and other serious acts of violence, including by armed men in plain clothes who attacked protesters,” says HRW and denounces that, of the 170 police officers subjected to disciplinary investigation, only two have been suspended.
“Colombia is not a country that violates human rights, we have difficulties, but we face them with Justice,” said presidential human rights advisor Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez on Tuesday.
The Colombian government has acknowledged 18 deaths related to the protests and says another nine are under investigation. Meanwhile, the Ombudsman reported Monday night that he had records of 58 deaths related to the protests, as well as 14 cases of sexual assault and 71 cases of gender-based violence, including physical and verbal assaults.
The police have registered more than 1,000 arrests, but most have been released because the judges found no evidence or concluded that they did not have due process.
The Government of Colombia reiterated its support for the security forces and affirms that the response to the demonstrations is adequate, while denouncing the violence of the protesters whom President Iván Duque has called “vandals.”
In this process of transformation of @PoliceColombia, human rights will be more prominent and clear in all areas of service and in the conduct of members. For this, there will be a renewed Police Statute and a Center for High-level Procedures Standards. pic.twitter.com/Lmt3AB4Cne
– Iván Duque 🇨🇴 (@IvanDuque) June 6, 2021
While the negotiations between members of the Government and the National Unemployment Committee remain stalled, the latter called for a ‘takeover of Bogotá’ for this June 9, which represents another day of protests where the police response will be in the international spotlight.
With AP and EFE