Colombia police responsible for 2020 protests ‘massacre’: Report

Police responsible for 11 deaths during protests in capital Bogota in September last year, UN-backed report finds.

Of 14 people killed in connection with the September 2020 protests, 11 died as a result of actions by police, who openly disregarded standards for use of force, the report said [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Police in Colombia are responsible for a “massacre” of protesters during 2020 demonstrations that erupted in Bogota following the killing of a taxi driver in police custody, a report backed by the United Nations has found.

The 182-page report published on Monday said Colombian police were responsible for the deaths of 11 people during anti-police brutality demonstrations in the capital from September 9 to September 11 of last year.

“There was a massacre, the responsibility for which falls on the national police,” said the report, which was funded by the UN Development Programme.

Of 14 people killed in connection with the protests, 11 died as a result of actions by police, who openly disregarded standards for use of force, the report said.

Maria Helena Meneces holds an album with photos of her son Cristhian Hurtado Meneces, who died in the protests against police brutality in 2020 [File: Nathalia Angarita/Reuters]

It also said the violence spun out of control because officers were unprepared to handle large crowds of protesters and were not given orders by their superiors to refrain from using firearms.

The demonstrations broke out after the death of Javier Ordonez, a 44-year-old taxi driver.

On September 9, a viral video showed Ordonez writhing on the ground while being repeatedly tasered by police as he screamed for them to stop. He died that night from his injuries.

“The events of violence, abuse and police brutality which began in the early hours of September 9 with the murder of Javier Ordonez at the hands of members of the national police set off one of the most serious episodes of violation of human rights in the history of Bogota,” the report said.

According to the report’s authors, 75 people were injured by firearms during the three nights of protests. Police officers were also filmed destroying private property. Seventeen police stations in Colombia’s capital were set on fire and destroyed by protesters.

The findings come as police in Colombia face greater scrutiny after a crackdown on mass protests that broke out across the South American nation this year over a tax reform bill.

International observers and rights groups have accused officers of using “disproportionate” force against the demonstrators.

Four police officers are facing murder charges for deaths that occurred in the September 2020 protests, although there are still no convictions [Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Monday’s report was commissioned last year by Bogota’s city government, which held a public ceremony during which it asked for forgiveness from the victim’s families. It is based on interviews with more than 90 witnesses, police officers and members of the victims’ families.

Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from Bogota, said the report details how police “indiscriminately and disproportionately” used live ammunition against protesters – and in particular against those in impoverished neighbourhoods of the capital.

Rampietti said the “scathing” report accused police of behaving as though “they could kill these young, poor people and get away with it”.

“It also accuses the national government and the leadership of the police of failing to stop the officers,” he said. “And it also says that this is the failure of the justice system … to punish those responsible for the killings since most of these officers are still patrolling the streets of Bogota.”

A series of demonstrations against President Ivan Duque’s unpopular government has led to more than 40 civilian deaths since 2019, according to government figures. Earlier this year, dozens of people died in protests over tax hikes and inequality that included roadblocks and small pockets of violent protesters among mostly peaceful crowds.

Monday’s report calls on the Colombian government to reform the country’s laws so that municipal governments have greater control over police forces. Currently, Colombian police forces are run by the Ministry of Defence and only takes orders from the national government.

The report points out that so far, four police officers are facing murder charges for deaths that occurred during the September 2020 protests, although there are still no convictions, and none of the officers charged with murder is in prison.

It also calls on Colombian prosecutors to investigate the role that high-ranking officers may have had in the violent response to the protests.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies