PBI-Colombia accompanies NOMADESC and CSPP as they seek justice for the victims of police violence during the national strike

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Photo: PBI-Colombia accompanied NOMADESC in its work of monitoring and verifying human rights violations during the National Strike, May 19, 2021.

PBI-Colombia accompanied organizations including the Association for Research and Social Action (NOMADESC) and Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) are seeking an end to the impunity for human rights violations committed by state security forces during the National Strike in 2021.

At the same time, PBI-Canada takes a look at Canada’s statements on state violence during the National Strike in 2021.

We also look at the helicopters and armoured vehicles that Canada has sold to the Colombian police (and our concern about the weakness of verification measures to clarify if these vehicles and helicopters were used against participants in the National Strike).

And we express concern about Canada’s export of “riot control agents”, “pyrotechnic devices” and “components” to the United States in the context of calls that the US stop exporting Venom rocket launchers and tear gas to the Colombian police.

 NOMADESC, CSPP seeking accountability

PBI-Colombia writes:

Almost two years after the 2021 National Strike, the high-ranking members of state security forces investigated for serious human rights violations committed during the repression of protests remain in total impunity.

Of the 3,169 criminal acts reported, the Prosecutor General’s Office only attributed 65 cases to the state security forces, of which 11 were archived and, to date, there have been no convictions. Meanwhile, 230 young people are being prosecuted for leading the protest.

In December 2022, several leaders who denounced human rights violations committed by state security forces in the context of the protests were declared military targets, allegedly by the Gaitain Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC)—a group that arose out of the paramilitary structure.

These individuals include the director of NOMADESC, Berenice Celeita, the organization’s lawyer, Lina Pelaez, and Walter Agredo, a member of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP). No progress has been made to clarify these events to date.

According to Óscar Ramírez, CSPP president, impunity is a direct consequence of the lack of external control of the institution, due to the military nature of the National Police.

The recent report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as follow up to the 41 recommendations made to the Colombian state after the repression of 2021 protests highlights concerns over the generalized impunity and reports only a “partial compliance” with just three of the recommendations.

The full PBI-Colombia article can be read at: Impunity on police violence during the 2021 national strike (March 21, 2023).

Global Affairs Canada statements on accountability

On May 9, 2021, Canada’s then Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau stated: “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.”

A July 14, 2021 readout of Minister Garneau’s meeting with Colombia’s then vice-president Marta Lucía Ramírez notes: “[The Minister] called on Colombia to keep its commitment to fully investigate and hold anyone who has violated human rights to account for their actions.”

Almost two years after these statements, state security forces have not been held accountable for their violence during the national strike.

The current Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly has not made public statements subsequent to Minister Garneau’s comments.

Canadian export of “military goods” to Colombia

Canada has exported more than $46.4 million in “military goods” to Colombia over the past 8 years: $88,403.11 in 2021, $460,338.87 in 2020, $310,576.25 in 2018, $114,688.85 in 2017, $215,066.11 in 2016, $522,203. in 2015 and $44,754,393. in 2014.

The 2014 chart shows $988,347. exported in a category 2-4 (“bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges, and related equipment and accessories specially designed for military use; and specially designed components”) and $44 million in category 2-6 (“ground vehicles and components”).

In 2020, there was also a significant export of category 2-6 (ground vehicles and components) to Colombia.

And in the Government of Canada’s most recent report 2021 Exports of Military Goods (released in May 2022), it is noted that Canada exported $88,403.11 in “military goods” to Colombia in 2021. Those exports mostly fall again under category 2-6 “Ground vehicles and components”, with small amounts attributed to 2-21 “software” and 2-22 “technology”.

Canadian ground vehicles with “cannon to wrangle unruly rioters”

The Toronto-based company INKAS sold four Huron tactical attack and defense vehicles to the Colombian police in 2014.

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.”

Canadian-made ground vehicle stops activists travelling to Cali during the National Strike

It seems that a Huron armoured vehicle was used against National Strike participants.

On July 17, 2021, Alejandra Wilches tweeted: “The police detained different delegations heading to the National People’s Assembly in Cali!”

Digital media Kienyke also reported: “Caravans of cars and buses with dozens of people were stopped on different roads in the country because the National Police prevented entry to the department of Valle del Cauca.”

This tweet (with the armoured vehicle visible) further noted: “Several delegations from each city (Popayan, Bucaramanga, Bogota …) going to the Asemblea Nacional del Paro are detained by the police who prevent them from going there to Cali.”

And this 2-minute video (in Spanish) with the armoured vehicle visible in the background also helps to understand what happened.

Helicopters over Siloé during National Strike

Colombian security forces assaulted peaceful protesters in the Siloé neighbourhood in Cali on May 3, 2021. Notably, Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps has confirmed the presence of two helicopters in the area during Operation Siloé.

It is in this context that we note Canada has sold forty CH-135 (between September 1998 and February 2000), twelve 212 (between 1994 and 1996) and four 407 helicopters (in 2013-14) to the Colombian police and military.

In November 2019, when the national strike mobilizations first began, Webinfomil.com reported that the Colombian National Police would “deploy its entire fleet of Bell 407 Halcón surveillance helicopters in the main cities of the country, where the most important concentrations are expected to occur.”

Semana also noted: “The aircraft, normally, carries four policemen (two pilots) and sends the images it takes to the police command, in real time, so that they are implemented in chases, padlock operations and all kinds of operations.”

We remain concerned that it is possible that the helicopters deployed by the National Police in Operation Siloé could have been helicopters made in Canada.

Canada exports “riot control agents”

In 2021, Canada also continued to export “controlled goods and technology” to the United States. Those exports totaled $123.8 million in category 2-4 that lists bombs, torpedoes, grenades (including smoke grenades), smoke canisters, pyrotechnic devices and missile rocket nozzles.

Canada also appears to have exported category 2-7 items “chemical or biological toxic agents, riot control agents, radioactive materials, and related equipment, components and materials” in 2021 through General Brokering Permits (GBP).

While the UK and US banned the export of tear gas to Hong Kong in response to misuse by that police force in 2019, no such ban appears to have been put in place by Canada in 2021 to prohibit the sale of tear gas to the Colombian police.

Further research is required to know if Canadian-produced “riot control agents” sold to the United States might have subsequently been exported to Colombia as US sales or aid. Greater transparency on supply chains would help to clarify if there are any Canadian links to the Venom rocket launchers or tear gas sold/provided by the US to Colombia.

We continue to closely follow this situation.

Join us on May 30 when we make the links between the CANSEC arms show in Ottawa (May 31-June 1), the export of Canadian military goods to Colombia, the export of Canadian military parts and components to the US, and accountability for state violence against participants in the National Strike in Colombia. More details on this coming soon!

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