Colombian police officers have committed “very serious abuses” against protesters amid the repression of mostly peaceful protests against the government of Iván Duque that are now six weeks old, Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced this Wednesday. After documenting at least 20 deaths directly committed by uniformed personnel, as well as violent beatings, sexual abuse and arbitrary arrests of protesters and bystanders, the NGO points out that the Government must take urgent measures to protect human rights in the midst of the mobilizations, and initiate a profound reform that allows separating the police from the military forces, as well as ensuring accountability that prevents abuses from ending in impunity.
The balance is shocking. Although the figures left by the social outbreak vary according to different sources, the human rights defender organization has received credible complaints about 68 deaths that have occurred since the beginning of the demonstrations, initially against a failed tax reform, in the past 28th of April. So far, it has been able to confirm that 34 of these deaths occurred in the context of protests – which are now amalgamated around different causes – including those of two police officers, a judicial investigator and 31 protesters or passersby.
Of these, at least 20 could have been killed by police officers. Evidence indicates that the uniformed officers killed at least 16 people with lethal ammunition fired from firearms. The victims had gunshot wounds to vital organs, such as the thorax or the head, which indicates an intention to kill, warns the report, which is released just as delegates from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visit the country this week. to verify the different complaints. On Monday they held a private meeting with President Duque.
At least one other victim died from beatings and three more from the improper or excessive use of tear gas or stun guns, HRW has been able to document. The police, at the center of international criticism, have fired the cartridges directly at the protesters, against indications to shoot them into the sky. It has also recklessly and dangerously used the Venom multi-projectile launch system in several cities, including Bogotá and Popayán. The IACHR has already warned about the indiscriminate use of weapons considered “less lethal” by public forces. More than 1,100 protesters and passers-by have suffered injuries, according to the Defense Ministry, as well as more than 1,200 soldiers. The report includes the cases of nine people who suffered serious eye injuries, due to tear gas cartridges or kinetic impact projectiles fired by riot control.
On several occasions since the social outbreak began, the police have dispersed peaceful demonstrations arbitrarily and with excessive use of force, “including through the use of lethal ammunition,” says the report. Colombia: Police brutality against protesters. These abuses “are not isolated incidents of undisciplined agents, but the result of deep structural failures,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of HRW for the Americas, who will meet with Duque this Wednesday after presenting the document. The president himself just announced last week that he proposed reforms to the police, but the announcements do not include removing it from the orbit of the Ministry of Defense to strengthen control mechanisms and civilian leadership, as several experts have long recommended. .
“It is important that President Duque has opened the discussion on a police reform. His proposal includes some measures, such as the reform of the police disciplinary system and the creation of a vice ministry of citizen security, which can have positive results if they are designed and implemented correctly. We will closely monitor the implementation of these plans to ensure that they do not remain on paper, as has already happened with other measures on the public force announced during his term, ”Vivanco said in statements to EL PAÍS. “At the same time, I believe that the president’s proposal lacks critical aspects, including a plan, even in the medium term, to transfer the police from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Interior or to a Ministry of Citizen Security, as is the case in all the countries of Latin America, and a reform of the Military Criminal Justice that guarantees that human rights violations are always judged by ordinary justice ”, he adds.
In addition to the excessive use of force, the violence unleashed in recent weeks has also raised concerns about the reappearance of the shadow of urban paramilitarism. Groups of armed people in civilian clothes have also attacked protesters, and at least five deaths can be attributed to those groups. Authorities’ investigations must include these plainclothes attackers, says the report, for which HRW interviewed more than 150 people in 25 cities in Colombia, including victims, their families and lawyers, eyewitnesses, various officials and defenders of human rights. He also met with the vice president and chancellor, Marta Lucía Ramírez, and commissioned opinions by a group of forensic experts. He accessed police and medical reports, autopsies, and corroborated more than fifty videos posted on social networks.
The NGO recommends that the Government of Iván Duque, among several immediate measures, unequivocally condemn the human rights violations and present an apology on behalf of the Colombian State for the police abuses committed during the protests. He also advises ensuring that all officials avoid using language that stigmatizes protesters, as well as suspending the use of kinetic impact projectiles and the Venom system until an independent review of the risk of these weapons is conducted.
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