BUCARAMANGA, Colombia – An international watch group on Wednesday accused Colombian police of being responsible for the deaths of 20 people and other violent actions against protesters during recent civil unrest, including sexual abuse, beatings and arbitrary detentions.
Human Rights Watch said in a report it had “credible evidence” that police killed at least 16 protesters or bystanders with “live ammunition fired from guns,” while three other people died when the police used non-lethal weapons. The report says another person died after being repeatedly beaten.
“These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents committed by rogue agents, but rather the result of systemic failures of the Colombian police,” said José Miguel Vivanco, group director for the Americas. “Comprehensive reform that clearly separates the police from the military and ensures adequate oversight and accountability is needed to ensure that these violations do not recur.
The report presents a panorama of violence more widespread than what the Colombian authorities have acknowledged. He says Human Rights Watch received “credible information” of a total of 68 deaths during the protests, of which 34 could be confirmed, including two police officers.
The Colombian government has reported 18 deaths related to the protests and says nine more are under investigation. The country’s human rights ombudsman, meanwhile, announced Monday evening that he had confirmed 58 deaths linked to the protests.
Thousands of Colombians have flocked across the country for mostly peaceful protests against the administration of President Iván Duque. The protests started over proposed tax increases on utilities, fuel, wages and pensions, but have turned into widespread demand for the government to do more for the most vulnerable in society. , such as indigenous and Afro-Latino peoples.
The administration withdrew the tax proposal just days after the protests began, but unrest continued and increased as reports of police violence, deaths and disappearances were reported.
Human Rights Watch said its investigation into the police response to the nationwide protests that began on April 28 found that the majority of the fatal victims sustained injuries to vital organs, including the head and chest. which, according to experts, “is consistent with having been caused with intent to kill.”
The report said among those killed by police was Kevin Agudelo, who died during a peaceful protest on May 3 in Cali, a town in southwestern Colombia that was the epicenter of the protests. Witnesses said riot police fired flash cartridges and tear gas when protesters blocked cars at a roundabout, prompting several protesters to throw stones.
“A witness said he heard gunshots which looked like live ammunition,” the report said. “He said that Agudelo, who had hid behind a pole, then ran towards him with another protester. The witness said he saw a policeman shoot Agudelo from a short distance. The other protester was also injured, he said. Human Rights Watch has reviewed three videos that appear consistent with witness accounts, in which Agudelo is seen lying next to the injured protester ”
The organization examined a photo of his body that showed injuries to his chest and arms, which the report said concluded forensic experts were compatible with live ammunition.
Authorities were slow to investigate reports of violence, and as of Saturday only four people were charged in two killings during the protests. Of the 170 police officers under disciplinary investigation, only two have been suspended, according to Human Rights Watch. Official public data indicates that most of these investigations relate to abuses of power and 13 relate to homicides.
Police have also been accused of gender-based and sexual violence. The Ombudsman’s Office, an agency tasked with protecting human rights, reported 14 cases of sexual assault and 71 cases of gender-based violence, including physical and verbal assault.
Police arrested more than 1,000 people for crimes allegedly committed during the protests, but hundreds of them were released because judges found no evidence linking them to the crime or concluded that they were not guaranteed due process.
The president said all cases of police abuse will be investigated and duly punished. However, Duque insisted these were isolated cases.
“Colombia is not a country that violates human rights, we have difficulties, but we face them with justice,” Presidential Human Rights Advisor Nancy Patricia told reporters on Tuesday. Gutiérrez.
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