WorldPolice followed "violent pattern" in protests in Colombia, says Amnesty International

Police followed “violent pattern” in protests in Colombia, says Amnesty International

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Young protesters on the streets of Cali, Colombia’s third most populous city, suffered “violent repression” at the hands of public officials and armed civilians amid protests (mostly peaceful) against the government of President Iván Duque. This is what a new report released this Friday, 30, by Amnesty International pointed out. The new conclusion came through new analysis of reports and complaints, in a process that included the digital verification of a substantial amount of audiovisual files. According to the NGO, “human rights violations and crimes under international law” committed by state forces “are not isolated or sporadic events, responding to a pattern of violent actions designed to inflict fear and discourage peaceful protest.”

To shed even more light on the facts, the organization recounts a balance already reported by several human rights organizations — although the numbers, depending on the source, continue to vary: that at least 28 people have died since the day. April 28, the date that marks the so-called “illegal activation” of the public force in response to the demonstrations. Protests, initially provoked in response to a failed tax reform bill, have waned. Violence, however, continues to surface: added to this new balance sheet are at least 90 cases of eye injuries, 28 of sexual violence and about 2,000 arbitrary arrests, as well as more than 300 missing people, as the report points out. Cali: At the Epicenter of Repression. Aggressions by groups of armed civilians are also documented, “who, accompanying agents of the National Police, attacked demonstrators and human rights defenders, thus constituting expressions of urban paramilitarism”.

As protests and riots completed a month at the end of May, after another day of chaos and violence, President Duque ordered the militarization of several cities across the country. One of them was Cali, capital of the department of Valle del Cauca, on the Pacific corridor. “The presence of military personnel with more than six decades of training to respond to armed conflict on the streets of urban centers, instead of giving a message of dialogue, fueled protests”, says the document, which focuses on a city “characterized by inequality , by exclusion and by structural racism”. And he adds: “Cali shows the lights and shadows of a country crossed by inequality and by the proud, courageous, creative and diverse struggle of its communities, which resist and demand to live in a more just country”.

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Still in the city of 2.2 million inhabitants, the report also analyzes three specific episodes that occurred on different days. The first, called “Operation Siloé”, which took place on May 3, shows the use of lethal weapons against peaceful protesters in an incursion by police and riot police. On the same night, three deaths from gunshot wounds were recorded. The second, on May 9, refers to shots fired by groups of armed civilians against demonstrators who participated in the porridge indigenous —regionalism that became synonymous with the resistance or mobilization of native peoples— “in the presence and tolerance of agents of the National Police”. That particular day left a balance of more than a dozen injured. Finally, on May 28, the document once again denounces the excessive use of force by police officers who acted (this time in coordination with armed civilians) in the attack on protesters in a neighborhood near the University of Valle. The document also reproduces the recommendations of the visit made by delegates of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

“Colombian authorities violated the human rights of those demonstrating peacefully in Cali, using excessive and unnecessary force in order to dismantle them,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty International. “Under the justification of restoring order, hundreds of people suffered terrible injuries and dozens of young people lost their lives. What happened in Cali is the manifestation of the authorities’ violent response and the real objectives behind this repression: inflicting fear, discouraging peaceful protest and punishing those who demand to live in a more just country,” he added.

Although the Government has launched what it calls a “comprehensive transformation” of the police, the change does not plan to remove the corporation from the Ministry of Defense to strengthen mechanisms of control and civilian leadership, as recommended by several experts — and by the IACHR itself. . “We hope that the police reform process announced by President Duque will not only remain on paper but also include the reforms ordered by the Supreme Court of Justice in September 2020 and a change in the modus operandi repressive action by the National Police in the face of peaceful demonstrations”, emphasized Guevara Rosas. Amnesty International recommended that the Colombian authorities, among other measures headed by a list of organizations, recognize the largely peaceful nature of the demonstrations. The report also urges the state to avoid stigmatizing the protests and to withdraw military forces from public order operations.

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