By Camilo Gonzáles Posso, AGENCIA PRENSA RURAL, December 31, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The government is attacking the United Nations for its report on the killings that went on during the peaceful protests.

The report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, published in the first week of December of 2021, points out with sufficient grounds that serious assaults were committed against the demonstrations carried out during the National Strike that began in April 2021 and which lasted nearly three months in more than 850 municipalities in Colombia. Another independent report that has been well received by OACNUDH, with reference to the abuses during the September 2020 strike, indicates that there was a massacre by the National Police troops in Bogotá.

Those who speak for the Iván Duque Márquez administration have hastened to accuse the representative in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, of having manipulated policies and favored campaigns to disparage the Armed Forces, and even of transgressing the duties or the missionary spirit required of the OACNUDH in Colombia. (Duque 1, 12/14/2020)

That reaction by the government is in contrast with editorials by the massive communications media that value the seriousness of the report in question and of the call for fundamental corrections, and urging that the practices of using excessive force by government agents are never repeated in Colombia. (El Tiempo, 12/15,2021)

The statements in the report are supported by 1,501 meetings with officials, witnesses, and victims in the careful review of the files of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, and of 2,414 live video records of the events in the protests. This was done so that these would not be claims made lightly, but rather observations of events that are now public record and that have been analyzed by independent agencies endorsed by the international community.

The first thing the government ought to do is to take these reports seriously. The United Nations Office has verified the following:

  • There were 48 cases of homicides of civilians during the protests; the National Police were responsible for the majority of them. There were two cases of police agents killed and another 13 are still being studied.
  • Besides that, 62 incidents of sexual violence have been documented, along with dozens of cases of racism. There were hundreds of actions of excessive force to disperse demonstrators, causing more than 1,600 persons to be injured.
  • There were dozens of unjustified actions against temporary blockades of roadways, without making use of the dialog that is called for.
  • Added to that, according to data from the NGO Temblores, there were 88 eye injuries, of which 79% were caused by Armed Forces actions. The Attorney General’s Office has documented 72 cases of those eye injures.
  • 531 people were arrested during the protests and taken into custody secretly, without following legal procedures. This has been called a form of kidnapping by organizations that defend human rights.
  • There were 384 attacks on journalists while they were covering the social protests. Among them were physical assaults, threats, and illegal arrests.
  • The criminalization of protest includes 744 cases of charging demonstrators criminally, as well as continued persecution of activists that were known as the Front Lines.
  • This report includes violent acts against 1,721 Police Officers, damage to more than 2,492 public properties, 2,049 private properties, sexual violence against a Police Officer, and the killing of two members of the Armed Forces.

The Minister of Defense and the President of the Republic himself have reacted rudely to the report, attacking the reference to the events of September 9 and 10 of 2020 when, in the judgment of the United Nations, the police action caused 11 deaths of demonstrators, which they call a massacre in Bogotá. Similar events of collective killings of demonstrators took place in Cali on April 30 and on the first days of May when young people and residents of Siloé were massacred.

INDEPAZ has records of the massacre in Cali (2021) and the one in Bogotá (2021). General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia has said that the National Police had not given orders to kill, and that neither were there orders to massacre. But the issue being debated is whether the ESMAD training and that of other police forces used to repress demonstrations has been permissive, or whether it includes procedures that lead to the risk of harm to demonstrators.

Hundreds of injured people and many dozens of deaths because of police brutality cannot  be considered isolated events that are the fault of individual officers, nor unrelated to the responsibility of the commanders of the operations, of their superiors, or the civilian authorities that are legally responsible under the constitution for the direction of the Armed Forces.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, CIDH, has pointed out the connection between police abuse of social protest and the policies and orientations that claim that demonstrators and people that carry out strikes and blockades are terrorists and should be treated with tactics of war, and even as accomplices of organized armed groups such as the ELN and the remains of the FARC.

The Foreign Minister and Vice President, Martha Lucia Ramírez, preferred a pronouncement criticizing the United Nations. It had endorsed the independent report on the events of September 2020. She indicated that “they are putting at risk the confidence that ought to exist in the relations between the government and the UN Office, and it makes it difficult to communicate and cooperate, which is the essence of its mandate.” (MLR, 12/14/2021).

In another communication by the Foreign Minister, she emphasizes the organizational measures by the National Police to avoid abuses in police use of force in the future. For her the corrections in protocol that have been introduced, and which are hoped for with the National Police reform statute, are sufficient. Nevertheless, she doesn’t admit any institutional responsibility for the homicides, injuries, and victims of police brutality.

With this posture of the government, the CIDH recommendations that the police be demilitarized, and the proposals by the social and human rights defense organizations to dissolve ESMAD, to attach the police to the Interior Ministry, and to banish all politics and speeches urging that protest be treated as an attack on our institutions, on national security, or a risk of infiltration by criminals, will have no place.

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