Members of the Colombian national police who are responsible for abuses or acts of violence in the ongoing protests will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, the force chief said.
Protesters and human rights groups have repeatedly accused police of killing civilians, excessive use of force, sexual abuse and the use of firearms, both during current and previous events.
Charges of possible abuse of a minor in the town of Popayan sparked violent protests this week.
“They must answer to the authorities and to anyone who has knowingly committed a crime; the answer will have the full weight of the law,” National Police Director General Jorge Luis Vargas told Reuters in an interview.
“We are the first to reject the illegal behavior of an officer and we will ask for forgiveness in the event of a court ruling,” said Vargas.
Vargas said 122 disciplinary proceedings have been opened against police since the protests began last month, while three were arrested on charges of murder linked to the deaths of civilians.
“There cannot be, there must not be and there will be no impunity,” said the 30-year veteran of the police force.
The accused officers will be given due process, he said, adding that the cops were also victims of physical assaults, gun attacks and an incident in which a crowd put the traffic light at a station.
A policeman died and nearly 900 were injured.
Police who intervened to control looting and vandalism during the protests did not use guns, Vargas said. Instead, non-lethal weapons are used in accordance with national and international rules.
Groups like Human Rights Watch say the misuse of non-lethal weapons can lead to death.
Protesters, who initially called marches against a now canceled tax plan, broadened their demands to include a basic income, an end to police violence and opportunities for young people, among others.
The death toll from the protests is disputed. The Human Rights Ombudsman is investigating 41 civilian deaths, while the Attorney General’s office has confirmed 14.
Roadblocks that cause shortages will be smashed by police whenever the government orders them, Vargas said, repeating accusations that criminal groups and guerrillas have infiltrated the protests to stoke violence.
Leftist politicians and student groups have long called for police to be moved out of the control of the Defense Ministry, for the use of lethal weapons during protests to be banned, for riot police to be disbanded, and for police to be disbanded. officers implicated in abuses are tried in civilian and non-military courts.
Vargas ruled out disbanding the riot squad, but said he supported more options to punish police abuse.
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