The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported on Wednesday that it found serious human rights violations in Colombia during the anti-government protests and announced the installation of a Special Follow-up Mechanism, which was rejected by the government.
The high number of deaths and injuries, as well as the serious reports of missing persons, sexual violence and the use of ethnic-racial profiling are extremely worrying. Likewise, the attacks on journalists and medical missions, the use of the figure of transfer for protection and complaints of arbitrary detentions, said the document of observations and recommendations of the IACHR to the Colombian State.
The protests which began on April 28 against a tax reform, which failed due to citizen pressure, turned into a social outburst motivated by inequality, poverty and violence. According to the Attorney General’s Office 27 people died in the demonstrations and 11 more are in the process of being verified. This figure would be much higher, according to human rights organizations.
At the same time, 220 investigations have been opened against members of the police for alleged misconduct, including 16 cases for homicide and 105 for abuse of authority, the Ministry of Defense recently reported.
The IACHR expressed its concern over the inconsistencies in the figures recorded by the various State entities, especially in the number of deaths and disappearances, and therefore recommended that Colombia systematize such data in a clear and transparent manner.
In addition, it found that on repeated occasions and in various parts of the country, the State’s response was characterized by the excessive and disproportionate use of force, in many cases, including lethal force. In this regard, the Colombian State indicated in a communiqué that these events have been exceptional and have only occurred in situations in which police intervention was necessary.
There are a series of recommendations that we accompany when they say that those responsible for any crime committed must be investigated and punished…. This is something that President Iván Duque himself has demanded from all government entities, Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez told The Associated Press.
The president of the IACHR, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, clarified during a press conference that there is no information indicating that there were orders or instructions from the highest levels for the disproportionate use of force.
In its communiqué, the Colombian government rejected some recommendations of the IACHR, among them that of separating the National Police and its ESMAD (anti-riot police) from the Ministry of Defense in order to avoid any possibility of military perspectives. Colombia explained that the police is a permanent armed body of a civilian nature and therefore, in its opinion, there is no military approach. He also emphasized that he is preparing a police reform in which the focus on human rights guarantees will be reinforced.
No one can recommend a country to be tolerant with acts of criminalityâ€¦ the acts of low intensity urban terrorism, the blockades that attempt against the rights of citizens, are being confronted with the constitution and the law and will always deserve the treatment that the constitution and the law grants them, Duque told the media on Wednesday.
The IACHR also recommended the Colombian state to guarantee the full enjoyment of the right to protest, promote genuine dialogue from the highest level of the state with protesters, make reparations to victims and investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes committed in the framework of the protests.
Regarding the road blockades, which numbered in the thousands during the demonstrations and which prevented the transit of medical supplies, food and people, the IACHR recommended the government to refrain from prohibiting in a generalized manner and a priori the roadblocks as a form of protest.
Vice President Ramirez assured AP that although most of the young people have protested spontaneously and peacefully, there are also people who have infiltrated these protests with bad intentions and added that the police have seized “more than 70,000 weapons” during the demonstrations.
The IACHR presented its observations and recommendations following a working visit to Colombia between June 8 and 10 during which it heard more than 300 testimonies from sectors of society that were affected by the demonstrations, including students, indigenous communities, unions and journalists. He also received reports from the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Defense, human rights organizations and met with President Duque, his ministers and control entities.