A new investigation shines a light on the brutal state violence being inflicted on protesters in Duque’s Colombia.
A much-anticipated report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has documented the extent of human rights violations committed by Colombian security forces since massive national strike protests were initiated in late April.
The IACHR released its findings on Wednesday 7 July, a little under a month after a delegation visited the country to assess the situation over 8-10 June.
The IACHR is an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) which monitors regional states’ compliance with international standards of human rights — it is equivalent to the European Commission for Human Rights
The latest round of protests, which have been held periodically across Colombia since November 2019 but which have massively intensified since April this year, called for the repeal of a tax reform which strike organisers said would have disproportionate impact on poorer social sectors.
Other demands included a comprehensive state response to the pandemic, an end to the killings of social activists and concerted government efforts to advance implementation of the 2016 peace agreement.
Rather than engage with these legitimate concerns, the Colombian state responded with intense repression, with security forces reported to have killed at least 44 people while also committing sexual and gender-based violence, attacks on journalists and medics and over 2,000 arbitrary arrests.
More than 80 people have been blinded or partially blinded by police projectiles, while an unconfirmed number have been reported missing after last being seen in police detention.
Altogether, human rights groups have documented more than 4,600 instances of police violence.
Given the appalling abuses taking place, in May opposition politicians, trade unions, social organisations and activists requested a visit by the IACHR to compile a report on the human rights situation.
While the government initially rejected a visit, it finally permitted one to go ahead, but not without attempting to influence the delegation’s focus onto what it claimed were abuses committed by protesters.
In its report, the IACHR highlighted unwarranted levels of violence that state forces have inflicted on protesters, in addition to the activities of armed groups.
Multiple social media videos have shown plain-clothes assailants shooting at protesters while alongside uniformed police officers, a particularly alarming development given Colombia’s long history of collusion between security forces and paramilitary groups.
‘The Inter-American Commission expresses its firm condemnation and rejection of the high levels of violence registered in the context of social protest, caused both by the excessive use of force by the public security forces and that provoked by groups outside the protest itself,’ said the report.
The report rejected the government’s claim that road blockades formed by protesters to shut down several major highways were an act of terrorism, asserting that such acts are legitimate forms of protest protected under the constitution.
It also criticised the deliberate blocking of internet