Experts from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Friday expressed their “deep dismay” at the use of force against demonstrators in Colombia, whom they described as “excessive” and “illegal”.
“We are deeply shocked by the excessive and illegal use of force by the police and members of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) against peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists in different parts of the country,” they said.
Experts have received reports of at least 26 deaths, mostly young people, 1,876 cases of police violence, 216 cases of injuries – including police officers – approximately 168 enforced disappearances, 963 allegedly arbitrary arrests, at least 12 cases of sexual violence allegations of torture. In addition, there were at least 69 attacks against human rights defenders.
With that in mind, they recalled that the use of potentially lethal force is “an extreme measure that can only be resorted to when strictly necessary to protect life or avoid serious injury in the face of an imminent threat”. On the contrary, the less lethal weapons should only be used under “strict requirements of necessity and proportionality if the less harmful measures are ineffective”; they have had an impact.
One of the issues of concern to experts is the involvement of the military in responding to government protests. They have therefore stressed that military personnel are trained and trained primarily to defend the country against military threats and should not be used to monitor demonstrations.
They also expressed concern about the violent attacks against the Minga indigenous people in Cali. “We oppose any attempt to accuse indigenous peoples of taking part in peaceful protests with weapons,” they said before urging the authorities to “take steps to prevent the spread of stigma on demonstrators.”
On the other hand, they have drawn attention to media repression, including censorship, internet restrictions, and attacks and harassment of journalists. “The Colombian authorities must respect freedom of expression and the press and ensure that journalists can safely cover the news,” they added.
For all these reasons, the rapporteurs have asked the authorities to conduct “a full, prompt, effective, impartial and independent” investigation into all alleged human rights violations, to “prosecute and punish” those responsible for these violations and to guarantee a “reasonable” redress, including Compensation for victims and their families. They also asked the government to reveal the whereabouts of all detainees.
The experts who recently contacted the government have also asked the authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly in future protests and to ensure that violence is used, respecting the principles of “precaution, necessity and proportionality” are. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” they warned.
The protests, which have been shaking the country for two weeks, have already claimed more than 40 lives, according to civil organizations. They started as a mobilization against the tax reform proposed by Iván Duque’s executive, but once it is withdrawn, the mobilizations call for action to tackle inequality in the country.