Human Rights Watch denounces systemic police abuse in Colombia, questions remain about Canada’s “bilateral police initiative”

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alongside then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Ottawa when the bilateral police initiative was announced, October 2017.

On June 9, the Associated Press reported: “Human Rights Watch in a report said it has ‘credible evidence’ indicating police killed at least 16 protesters or bystanders with ‘live ammunition fired from firearms’, while three other people died when police used nonlethal weapons. The report said another person died after being beaten repeatedly.”

Human Rights Watch has documented multiple killings by police, as well as beatings, sexual abuse, and arbitrary detention of demonstrators and bystanders.

Their full report can be read here.

The AP article adds: “Of the 170 police officers under disciplinary investigation, only two have been suspended, according to Human Rights Watch. Official public data indicates most of these investigations are for abuse of authority and 13 are linked to deaths.”

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, says:

“These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue officers, but rather the result of systemic shortcomings of the Colombian police. Comprehensive reform that clearly separates the police from the military and ensures adequate oversight and accountability is needed to ensure that these violations don’t occur again.”

Earlier this week, Colombian president Ivan Duque announced his government will ask Congress to approve the creation of a police human rights directorate that would seek international help on policy.

Canadian police train 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.”

Canada has condemned police violence in Colombia.

On May 9, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau commented: “Canada condemns the violence [in Colombia], including the disproportionate use of force by security forces, and urges that the violence cease. The right to peaceful assembly and association are the bedrock of democracy and must be promoted and protected at all times.”

We have asked Global Affairs Canada for more details on the scope, duration, outcomes and current status of the Canada-Colombia bilateral police initiative. We have also asked for comment on Duque’s suggestion of international help for the police human rights directorate and whether Canada would respond to that call.

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