Colombian forces committed ‘serious’ abuses during protests: UN

Colombia’s police responsible for at least 28 deaths during anti-government protests this year, UN report finds.

Demonstrators gather at the Los Heroes monument during a protest demanding government action to tackle poverty, police violence and inequalities, in Bogota, May 28, 2021 [File: Santiago Mesa/Reuters]

Security forces in Colombia committed “serious” human rights violations during a crackdown on mass protests earlier this year that left dozens dead, the United Nations said in a new report, urging the government to reform how demonstrations are managed.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that government agents used “unnecessary or disproportionate force” during the protests, which began in April and drew thousands into the streets in anger over a tax reform proposal.

State security forces were guilty of murder, arbitrary detentions, sexual and gender-based violence, and acts of discrimination and racism, the 63-page report said.

The report also urged “the Colombian authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure those in charge of managing protests, in particular the National Police, only resort to dispersal of protesters in strict adherence of international human rights norms and standards”, the UN said in a statement.

The UN report was the latest to accuse Colombian police and security forces of using excessive force during the demonstrations, which saw fierce clashes in some cities in the South American nation.

While the protests were ignited by the proposed tax legislation, protesters widened their demands to include government action to address longstanding problems related to education, healthcare, poverty, police violence and other social issues.

Late last month, Amnesty International accused Colombian police of “intentionally” targeting protesters, as more than 100 people suffered eye injuries during the unrest, while Human Rights Watch said in June that police had committed “egregious” abuses.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also said in July that the Colombian government used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the protests.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has blamed dissident leftist fighters for much of the violence.

But amid the barrage of criticism, he pledged in early June to “modernise” the country’s police force, including by providing more human rights training to officers and increasing oversight.

On Wednesday, the UN said it had verified 46 deaths – 44 civilians and two police officers – during the demonstrations. Seventy-six percent of the victims died from gunshot wounds, it said.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that police officers were responsible for at least 28 of these deaths and that at least 10 of these deaths involved members of the National Police’s Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD),” the UN said in the statement accompanying the report.

“Non-State actors are believed to have killed 10 people. There is insufficient information to establish the likely perpetrators of eight deaths.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies