Canada’s position on police violence in Colombia does not reflect the demands of human rights defenders or its feminist foreign policy
Photo from France 24: On May 13, 17-year-old Allison Meléndez committed suicide the day after being sexually assaulted at an ESMAD riot police detention centre.
Canada’s position on police violence in Colombia has been to highlight the Colombian government’s stated commitment to address it.
Is that credible or sufficient?
Foreign Affairs Minister Garneau’s statements
On May 9, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau stated: “Canada condemns the violence, including the disproportionate use of force by security forces, and urges that the violence cease.”
That comment was quickly followed by: “We welcome the Government of Colombia’s commitment to fully investigate and hold accountable those who may be guilty of violating human rights during these events.”
Just a couple days prior to that, Temblores had reported that there had been 1,773 cases of police brutality since the national strike began on April 28.
It also documented 28 victims with police inflicted injuries to their eyes and 11 victims of sexual assault by the public force.
By July 14, when Garneau met with Colombian Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez the readout from that call noted a more generic statement: “Minister Garneau emphasized Canada’s concerns regarding violence in Colombia, both in the context of social protests and against social leaders and ex-combatants working to implement peace.”
Garneau then repeated his message from 10 weeks earlier and “called on Colombia to keep its commitment to fully investigate and hold anyone who has violated human rights to account for their actions.”
And yet, just days before this meeting Temblores had reported that there now had been 4,687 case of police brutality since April 28.
It also noted that now there were 82 victims with police inflicted injuries to their eyes and 28 victims of sexual assault by the public force.
And less than a week after the call between Garneau and Ramírez, Temblores reported 128 cases of police violence and 1 more case of sexual violence by the public force during the massive public mobilization across Colombia on Tuesday July 20.
Promises not kept by Colombian police
In May, the Colombian police said that they had launched disciplinary investigations against 117 officers for possible misconduct during this current wave of social protests.
But in June, Human Rights Watch noted: “Of those officers, five had been temporarily suspended including three who were under disciplinary investigation for homicide. The rest continued to perform their duties.”
Human Rights Watch has also reported that the Attorney General’s Office had launched 24 investigations into police conduct during the 2019 protests and another 5 into the protests that took place in 2020.
But despite the passage of time, “No police officers had been subject to disciplinary sanctions and most cases continued in the preliminary stages.”
Calls to dismantle the ESMAD riot police
The PBI-Colombia accompanied Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) have both called for the dismantling of the ESAMD riot police.
The Associated Network of Human Rights Defenders (dhColombia) has also cautioned against pursuing “weak reforms” of the police and has used the hashtag #LaPoliciaNosEstaMatando (The Police Are Killing Us).
Between Garneau’s statement on May 9 and his call with the Colombian vice-president on July 14 the number of cases of police brutality increased from 1,773 to 4,687. The number of sexual assaults by the public force also increased from 11 to 28 women.
And yet, despite Canada’s commitment to a feminist foreign policy and the fact that no Colombian police officers had been subject to disciplinary actions related to the protests in 2019, Garneau’s position is still to call on Colombia “to keep its commitment” to investigate anyone who has violated human rights and hold them accountable.
Garneau’s position may also be a reflection on the level of police impunity in Canada in which only 18 criminal charges and 2 convictions have resulted from the police killings of 461 people in Canada between 2000 and 2017.
“Justice for Alison and all those who are not here.”