Colombian government announces police reform, but human rights defenders call for the dismantling of the ESMAD riot police

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC).

Reuters reports: “Colombia’s government will ask congress to approve better human rights training for police and increase oversight of officers, President Ivan Duque said on [June 6], amid accusations of police brutality during recent anti-government protests.”

“The government will ask Congress to approve the creation of a police human rights directorate, which will seek international help on policy, and a new education directorate for officer training, Duque announced during a ceremony to celebrate police promotions.”

That article adds: “The law, to be proposed on the first day of the next legislative session in July, would also create a new complaints system and expand disciplinary standards for officers. The government is also working on a law to establish legitimate use of force criteria and another to regulate the use and sale of less-lethal weapons, Duque said.”

PBI-Colombia accompanied groups call for ESMAD to be dismantled

The Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) has tweeted: “ESMAD has been a body that has systematically violated human rights in Colombia. It abuses its power, exercises force in an illegal and disproportionate way, does not comply with action protocols … that is why #DesmonteDelESMADYa [dismantle ESMAD now].”

The Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) has also tweeted: “Day against #BrutalidadPolicial [police brutality] in [the city of] #Barrancabermeja, we demand the dismantling of #ESMAD.”

And the Associated Network of Human Rights Defenders (dhColombia) has tweeted: “Be careful, it is neither excessive use of force, nor with weak reforms to the Colombian police and ESMAD. It is a deliberate behavior of belittling life and doing harm (killing), it is by dismantling current processes of belonging, bonding, training and squads that something would be achieved.” dhColombia has also used the hashtag #LaPoliciaNosEstaMatando which translates as The Police Are Killing Us.

The Reuters article notes: “Protesters have long demanded the dissolution of the feared ESMAD riot squad and the transfer of the police out of the remit of the defence ministry. Both ideas have been repeatedly rejected by the government, but Duque said Colombia will seek international expert advice on best practice for the ESMAD.”

Canada and the Colombian police

On October 30, 2017, the Canadian Press reported on a “bilateral police initiative” between Canada and Colombia. At that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “This effort will support post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia and will see Canadian police providing training, capacity building and strategic advice to our Colombian friends.”

Canadian made riot vehicles sold to Colombian police

On May 20, 2014, Toronto-based INKAS Armoured Vehicles Manufacturing announced a new armoured personnel carrier (APC) highlighting that the company “will supply the first four vehicles to the National Police of Colombia.”

In April 2015, PLANT also reported: “The manufacturer is still building behemoth armoured personnel carriers (APCs). In fact, there’s a tendered order for 26 of its Huron vehicles, at about $450,000 a pop, for the National Police of Columbia.”

That article adds: “The Huron will be outfitted with a cannon to wrangle unruly rioters with foam, tear gas, dyes and water.”

Police violence during the national strike

Duque’s announcement about police reform comes just before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) arrives in Colombia on June 8.

Recently the IACHR expressed alarm “at least 87 acts of sexual violence allegedly committed by law enforcement agents against women demonstrators, such as the case of the adolescent who reported having been sexually assaulted by several law enforcement officers in the city of Popayan and who subsequently committed suicide on May 12.”

The most recent report from the Colombian organization Temblores (below) notes 3,789 cases of police violence since the start of the national strike.

Racialization of state repression

Toward Freedom has also commented: “The violence and repression has a disproportionate impact on Black communities. For example, 35 of the 47 murders Indepaz reported took place in Calí, home to South America’s second-largest Afro-descendant population.”

It then highlights: “Many of the most aggressive cases of state violence have been carried out in neighborhoods with majority or significant Afro-descendant populations, treating communities as enemies of war.”

That article further notes: “While official statistics do not reveal the proportion of Black victims in this current wave of police brutality due to a lack of disaggregated data, photos of victims clearly show the disproportionate impact on young Afro-descendant men.”

Temblores chart

Top row: Cases of police brutality; Victims of physical violence by the police; Victims of homicides allegedly committed by the police; Arbitrary arrests.

Bottom row: Violent interventions by the public force; Victims with injuries to their eyes; Cases of firearm shootings by the police; victims of sexual violence by the public force.

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