- BBC News World
The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the “very serious abuses” committed by members of the Colombian national police against protesters during the protests that have taken place in that country since April 2021.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the human rights organization accused the security forces of using excessive and often brutal force against “mostly peaceful” protesters and assured that has documented numerous deaths, violent beatings, sexual abuse and arbitrary detentions.
“The human rights violations committed by the police in Colombia they are not isolated incidents of undisciplined agents, but the result of deep structural failures, “said José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at HRW.
Vivanco called on the government to implement “serious” police reform and “ensure adequate oversight and accountability to prevent these abuses from happening again or going unpunished.”
The president of Colombia, Iván Duque, had already announced on June 6 a series of reforms to the National Police and the modernization of the Ministry of Defense – which governs that security institution.
Duque promised a “comprehensive transformation of the police”, concentrating on strengthening human rights training.
However, some opposition politicians, such as the representative of the Green Alliance, Juanita Goebertus, said that the reforms should be more profound, calling the announced measures “some necessary and others cosmetic.”
The Human Rights Watch report agreed on this, indicating that the proposed reforms are not enough to prevent human rights violations and guarantee justice for the abuses committed.
He highlighted the need for a clear separation between the police and the Ministry of Defense (Armed Forces) that create a civil institution and trained to respond to demonstrations in a respectful manner.
What does Human Rights Watch denounce?
For its report, the US-based human rights NGO said it had interviewed more than 150 people -by phone or videoconference- in 25 cities in Colombia.
These included victims, their families and lawyers, eyewitnesses, human rights groups and various government officials including the Vice President of the Nation, the Chancellor and the Director of the Police.
Of 68 reports of deaths that occurred since the start of the demonstrations, he was able to confirm that at least 34 occurred in the context of the protests (including those of two police officers).
HRW claims to have obtained credible evidence, some corroborated by video, that lPolice killed at least 16 protesters with firearms or bystanders, many intentionally.
He also reported beatings and excessive use of force. According to the Ministry of Defense, there were at least 1,100 cases of people who suffered injuries, but the NGO considers the number to be higher, documenting 17 violent beatings committed by the police, one of which resulted in the death of Elvis Vivas, of 24 years.
He highlighted the report of the Ombudsman’s Office that received complaints from two cases of rape by uniformed officers, 14 cases of sexual assault and another 71 cases of gender-based violence, including slapping and verbal abuse.
Attacks on the police
But the HRW report also condemned the violence against police officers. Although he assured that most of the demonstrations were carried out peacefully, he acknowledged that there were a series of serious acts against uniformed personnel, including attacks with Molotov cocktails, looting and burning.
The result, until June 2, is that more than 1,200 policemen were injured, at least 192 seriously, two dead and seven hospitalized, according to data from the Defense Ministry.
It was also mentioned the blockades of streets and roads for prolonged periods by the protesters that in some cases prevented the distribution of food and medicine or the circulation of ambulances, which in one case could have prevented the death of a newborn in the vicinity of the city of Cali.
However, Vivanco was emphatic: “Violence against police officers and blockades that prevent access to food or health services are absolutely unjustifiable, but cannot be a pretext for police brutality“, he pointed.
What recommendations does HRW make?
The HRW report drew up a long list of recommendations that are addressed to both President Iván Duque, the director of the National Police, Congress, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office.
The executive asks take immediate measures to guarantee the respect and protection of human rights, a comprehensive review of protocols and practices in crowd control, provide reparations to victims of police violence, and convene the committee created to verify arrests during demonstrations.
Among the measures that he suggests to legislators are the transfer of the police from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Interior (something requested by the representatives of the protesters) or to a new ministry and to reform the Penal Code to guarantee independent investigations of cases of violence perpetrated by police against civilians.
These investigation processes on the abuses committed during protests, the rendering of accounts and the creation of verification and monitoring committees were also recommended to the other State entities.
The Ombudsman’s Office was asked to ensure “strict, strong and intense” control over the abuses committed by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD), to increase monitoring and public and periodic information on cases of human rights violations.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.