EL ESPECTADOR, March 2, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

This Thursday, more than 20 human rights organizations are presenting to the administration their document of proposals to begin the reform of the Police. Among the ideas is support of the leadership of Mayors and Governors, making it easier to file complaints of abuses, creation of a permanent monitoring committee made up of civilians and others.

Eliminating the military hierarchy, limiting the concept of “transfer for protection” and making sure that Mayors and Governors can really take the lead over the management of Police in the municipalities and departments.

These are some of the proposals in a document that more than 20 human rights organizations presented this Thursday with the minimums that, for them, must be in a reform of the Police, which the Gustavo Petro administration has promised. The ideas go from some that have long been dreamed of, like pulling the Police out of the Defense Ministry, and other new plans, like creating a Permanent Citizen Committee that would monitor police work and require transparency.

“One of the objectives of demilitarization is to put an end to that warfare logic in certain situations, such as protest situations, where the dynamics of the internal enemy, mediated by racial and gender prejudice, result in degrading treatment of the citizens by the Police,” as Eliana Alcala de Avila, an attorney in ILEX Acción Juríduca (Legal Action), an organization that calls for the protection of Afro-Colombians, said in an interview with this newspaper. More than 20 organizations, with the support of Amnesty International, have prepared a document that they are presenting this Thursday.

Their proposal is divided into six points: demilitarize the Police, modify the general structure and functions: reform the system of hiring, career, and promotion; limit the use of force, install mechanisms of control of police activity and use citizen oversight; and guarantee truth, justice, and reparations for the victims of police violence. For Julián González, Advocacy Coordinator for the Colombian Jurists Commission, who also took part in preparing the document, it’s about returning the institution to the place given to it in the Constitution of 1991.

“In Colombia, thanks to the armed conflict, the Police have been carrying out military functions in battling the guerrillas, and that has transformed the institution. So, as we have been living in this altered state, a state of things that is not the state that was designed; what we are asking right now is nothing more than giving effect to the Constitution of ‘91,” González explained with regard to the proposal to demilitarize the Police. The document suggests that one way to do that would be to authorize civilian command. For example, that the Mayors and the Governors would have effective power over the Police commanders in their territories.

Another way to achieve that, they explain, is by transforming the indicators. No longer assessing the institution by confrontations, arrests, and seizures. “Their indicators have to be in the model of conflict management, meaning, they have to have the capability of arriving at a conflict that is affecting the peace of a community and be able to manage it successfully. That doesn’t necessarily have to be through imprisonment, or specific penalties, but once again, management by understanding,” adds González, not without first clarifying that making that a reality for the Police would require changing their Doctrine.

For the organizations that signed the document, including Dejusticia, Raza e Igualdad (Race and Equality), Nomadec, and several others, it’s crucial that the use of force be adjusted to human rights standards, and at the same time there must be more transparency on the activities of the Police. Alcala explains it this way: “We have a great gap because we don’t know what the protocols are that govern Police activity in specific situations, and that leaves a wide margin for arbitrary actions, opening the door to the use of excessive force, which is what happens with the transfer for protection.”

She is referring to the use of administrative detention that the Police Code takes advantage of and that allows a person to remain in custody for up to 24 hours if the officer thinks the person is impaired. Agencies like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have warned of the possible indiscriminate use of this concept, especially in the context of a protest. For González, this is an example of how the international treaties and judges are clear in imposing limits but, “the big problem is that the Police do whatever they feel like doing.”

From there, the document insists vehemently on the necessity that civil society have more access to Police procedures. For example, they propose creating a permanent citizen commission for members of the public to monitor Police activities. In Alcala’s words, “It’s the possibility that the organizations of victims, experts, and academics could have conversations with the Police on matters like their training, review of their protocols, accountability, citizen monitoring. It means that civil society takes part in every one of their procedures and that they can be reviewed for guarantees of human rights.”

They also believe that there is much more to do in the process of Police hiring. For Alcala, in view of the violence that the Police exercise systematically against certain social groups, “it’s valid to ask ourselves, shouldn’t we also transform hiring standards used by the Police? Shouldn’t we have a prior assessment before they are even trained? Having the ability to determine what are those values that will identify a person who will be a member of this body, a body that is so important and that ultimately has great power.”

These and other proposals, such as taking away the military criminal jurisdiction privilege from Police personnel, creating a unit in the Attorney General’s Office dedicated to investigating Police violence, reparations for victims of human rights violations committed by Police, are part of the document being presented this Thursday, under the coordination of Amnesty International. In the Center for Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation, the more than 20 organizations that signed the proposal will have a meeting to deliver the document to the Gustavo Petro administration.

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