| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

Report reveals illegal detention and torture in Colombia protests

A new report issued by Amnesty International stated that Colombian authorities unlawfully detained, tortured, and used lethal weapons against peaceful protesters during the demonstrations that have swept the country since April.

Through an “exhaustive digital verification” of images and videos, Amnesty also confirmed that National Police officials permitted acts of violence and urban paramilitarism by armed civilians against demonstrators and human rights activists.

The protests, which reached their peak in May, have since calmed, although they saw a resurgence on July 20, Colombian Independence Day.

Since the start of the demonstrations, the National Police and the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) have been criticized for excessive force and repression of peaceful protests. The largest protests took place in Cali, which has the largest Afro-descendant population in Colombia and the second largest in Latin America, and where racism, classism, as well as the country’s internal armed conflict have taken a toll.

The Amnesty report documented some of the worst of the allegations levelled against authorities.

“​​[P]olice officers and armed civilians, acting with their acquiescence and tolerance, attacked the protesters, committing acts of torture in some cases,” the report argued.

“[I]n a country battered by decades of paramilitary violence, these events are extremely serious and must be investigated diligently, independently and impartially.”

The report analyses, in particular, a violent police incursion into the Cali neighbourhood of Siloé, an attack on the Indigenous Minga by armed civilians as police looked on, as well as attacks by police and civilians against protesters at Valle University, where several demonstrators allege torture and inhumane treatment during their unlawful detention.

Three protesters described in detail how police beat them, pressured them to confess to crimes they had not committed, and threatened to “disappear” them.

These practices are not isolated incidents, but rather reflect a pattern of violent repression by Colombian authorities including President Iván Duque, who fuelled protests by sending military units “shaped by more than six decades of armed conflict” into city streets, the report concluded.

Amnesty’s report came three weeks after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous body in the Organization of American States, concluded  the Colombian government used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the protests. The IACHR called on the government to make structural changes to its police force.

Human Rights Watch last month also called out “egregious” police abuse during the protests and demanded the government “take urgent measures to protect human rights”.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, the Amnesty report’s author, María José Veramendi, pointed to a pattern of police violence during the past two years, including the death of Dilan Cruz during protests in 2019 and Javier Ordonez,  whose death in police custody after being repeatedly tasered by officers sparked deadly protests last year.

An official source from the National Police pointed out the violence and destruction caused by protesters, pointed to proposed police reforms and stated that any crimes committed by police were isolated incidents and not representative of a systemic issue.

“While there were some policemen who were committing mistakes and abuses, which as I say should be punished with total severity, there is a difference,” the source wrote in a message.

“And that is that those gentlemen did not get up from their beds with the intention of murdering and assaulting, as those who caused the terrible excesses that the country experienced for weeks did in a premeditated way.”


  • Aljazeera