Nomadesc president Berenice Celeita on impunity and the equipping of the Colombian national police following the National Strike
Video still: Berenice Celeita holds up a tear gas canister during a PBI-Canada webinar on police violence in Colombia, June 3, 2021.
When Association for Research and Social Action (Nomadesc) president Berenice Celeita was in Canada recently she noted the impunity the Colombian national police have in relation to their violence against participants in the National Strike of 2021.
Emblematic of that police violence is the multitude of tear gas canisters they fired at the National Strike protests.
In June 2021, Celeita participated in a PBI-Canada webinar that focused on the issue of police violence during that pivotal time.
She held up a tear gas canister to underline her concerns.
The logo at the bottom of the canister held by Celeita suggests the manufacturer of the tear gas is Combined Tactical Systems (CTS).
Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade has explained: “Combined Systems has several brand names, including Combined Tactical Systems (CTS) under which its CS [chlorobenzylidene malononitrile] gas munitions are marketed.”
Combined Systems is located in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, about 400 kilometres south of Toronto.
CTS tear gas has been used against protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the police murder of Michael Brown in 2010, by Egyptian security forces in Tahrir Square in 2011, against Palestinian youth in the West Bank in 2012, and by police at the Civic Strike in Buenaventura, Colombia in 2017.
The call to suspend arms sales to Colombia
In May 2021, Amnesty International called on the United States to suspend the sale of tear gas to Colombia. They highlighted:
“A suspension of weapons must remain in place until the Colombian security forces fully comply with international law and standards on the use of force, abuses are independently and impartially investigated, and there is full accountability for all human rights violations that have been committed by the Colombian authorities.”
Last month, Amnesty International further noted:
“In a case in the Siloé neighborhood in Cali, police fired tear gas unlawfully and in excessive quantities – including against peaceful protesters who had nowhere to disperse to – using Venom, a multiple-barrel grenade launcher often mounted on vehicles or tripods, that does not allow precise aiming, as required by UN guidance on the use of less lethal weapons. These launchers are therefore not appropriate for use in crowd control operations or any other law enforcement function. Venom grenade launchers have also been used often against Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces.”
Combined Systems also manufactures the Venom grenade launcher.
Image from the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC).
Continued impunity for the Colombian police
On May 9, 2021, Canada’s then-foreign 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.”
When Garneau met with Colombia’s then-foreign minister Marta Lucía Ramírez on July 14, 2021, the readout from that meeting noted:
“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. He 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 in March 2023, PBI-Colombia highlighted:
“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.”
Justice for Colombia also reports: “There has been little progress in investigations into police abuses against protesters during Colombia’s National Strike mobilisations in 2019 and 2021, the United Nations Committee on Torture has warned.”
Canadian helicopters for the Colombian police
We do not know if Canada has continued to monitor this situation of impunity, or whether Global Affairs Canada officials amplified in their communications with their US counterparts the call for a suspension of arms transfers to Colombia.
We do know, however, that briefing notes obtained by The Maple dated July 2022 for then-Defence Minister Anita Anand indicated that Mirabel, Quebec-based Bell Helicopter Textron Canada “is providing … four 407 helicopters to the Colombian National Police”.
Unclassified document obtained by The Maple.
The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service also highlights that the “Army and National Police have expressed interest” in “remotely-piloted systems & autonomous technologies”. Remotely-piloted systems could refer to drone technology used for surveillance purposes, including the surveillance of popular protests.
And we know that the Canadian Commercial Corporation supported the efforts of General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada to sell armoured vehicles to the Colombian military and was “pleased to announce” the signing of the contract this past June.
We continue to follow this situation with concern.
Nomadesc: “Colombians do not want more weapons, no more massacres, no more disappearances, no more threats, no more fear. #StopTheGenocide. We demand truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition. Don’t send us any more weapons. That has made them accomplices of Barbarism.”