1,443 cases of police brutality as National Strike protests enter their eighth day in Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: PBI-Colombia accompanies the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) in Bogotá on April 28, the first day of the national strike.

This morning, Wednesday May 5, the ongoing protests in Colombia are entering their eighth day since the national strike began on Wednesday April 28.

The casualties

The Bogota-based organization Temblores reports that between April 28 (at 6 am) and May 4 (at 8 am) they have documented 1,443 cases of police brutality, 31 victims of homicide by the police, 814 arbitrary arrests, 21 victims with injuries to their eyes, and 10 victims of sexual assault by the public force (army and police).

Colombia’s human rights ombudsman – a state agency independent from the government – has also stated that 89 people have “disappeared” since the protests began.

What’s driving the protests?

Agence France-Presse reports: “Tens of thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets in demonstrations against a proposed tax reform but have since morphed into broader protest against the government of President Ivan Duque.”

France 24 explains the broader context of the protests: “Aboriginal communities and citizens in general, such as young university students, demonstrate against a project on health reform, demand compliance with what was agreed in the 2016 peace agreement, reject militarization policies, and maintain their stance against fracking and glyphosate spraying, which the Government seeks to resume.”

That article also further notes: “The scenes of aggression in recent days [have] revived calls for police reform. They call for the dismantling of ESMAD, the Mobile Riot Squad, accused of suppressing protesters.”

Riot police and soldiers on the streets

AFP reports: “Cali, Colombia’s third-biggest city, has had soldiers patrolling its streets since last Friday [April 30] on government orders. In Cali alone, 700 soldiers, 500 riot police officers, 1,800 other police and two helicopters have been put into operation.”

The Associated Press also reports that soldiers and army tanks were seen on the outskirts of Bogota on Tuesday May 4.

Canadian Ambassador comments

On May 4, Marcel Lebleu, the Canadian Ambassador to Colombia, tweeted: “I deeply regret all the deaths, injuries and violence in Colombia. We defend the right to peaceful demonstration and we are concerned about the excessive use of force against protesters. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased.”

The Canadian Embassy also tweeted: “We regret all the deaths, injuries and violence in Colombia. We are concerned about the disproportionate use of force against protesters and we call for all actors to cease the violence and lay the groundwork for a dialogue. Our thoughts go out to the families of all the deceased and the injured. Life and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are fundamental human rights that must be guaranteed.”

Meeting with Global Affairs Canada

Today, May 5, PBI has arranged for Colombian human rights defenders from CREDHOS, CRY-GEAM, FEDEPESAN and Aguawil to have a virtual meeting with representatives from Global Affairs Canada and the Embassy of Canada in Colombia.

This may be an occasion for them to call for a public statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau about the situation, to express concern about the support from Canada’s export credit agency Export Development Canada (EDC) for Canadian oil and gas operations in Colombia, to derive a clear statement about Canada’s position on fracking in Colombia (that at least two Canadian companies are pursuing), and to ask about the export of Toronto-manufactured armoured “riot control” vehicles to the Colombian police.

PBI accompaniment

Peace Brigades International has been providing physical and political accompaniment to human rights organizations during these national strike protests.

On May 4, PBI-Colombia accompanied the Association for Research and Social Action (NOMADESC) in the neighbourhood of Siloé in Cali where they reported at least 3 homicides and multiple injuries the previous night. On May 3, PBI-Colombia also accompanied NOMADESC in monitoring mobilization points in Cali.

And on April 28, PBI-Colombia accompanied the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) at the national strike march in Bogota, as well as the Social Corporation for Community Advice and Training (COSPACC) in the city of Yopal, Casanare.

Peace Brigades International has been providing accompaniment to human rights defenders in Colombia since 1994.

In May 2014, the Toronto-based company INKAS Armored Vehicle Manufacturing supplied four Huron tactical attack and defence vehicles to the National Police of Colombia. As seen in this video and this video, there are concerns about how the police are using similar armoured vehicles against National Strike protests.

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