Bogota court condemns violence committed by police and ‘para-police’

The Bogota District Court has condemned the conduct of police during the protests of 9 and 10 September which followed the killing of 44-year-old lawyer Javier Ordóñez. In video which went viral on social media, two police officers were seen repeatedly tasering and beating Ordóñez. He was later taken to hospital, where he died of head injuries. The killing sparked major protests over police brutality.

Several opposition politicians have criticised the government and security forces over the treatment of protesters. According to United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, ‘excessive force could have killed up to 13 people and injured another 300’, while the mayor of Bogota, Claudia López, accused police of disobeying her orders and ‘shooting indiscriminately’ at people. Most of the dead were young, including at least three teenagers. Witness accounts said that a number of victims were simply passing by when they were struck by bullets.

In a report, the District Court said that ‘the vandalism and abuses of the police affected the exercising of the right to social protest.’ Police violence had impacted disproportionately on people who were protesting legitimately and on those who were simply in the vicinity, it added.

In an alarming echo of the state’s complicity with right-wing paramilitary groups which committed atrocities during Colombia’s armed conflict, court ombudsman Guillermo Rivera said: ‘It worries us that in several videos of confrontations between civilians and police on these nights, men dressed as civilians are seen shooting alongside the police. It is not clear if they are police in civilian clothes or armed civilians presumably acting as ‘para-police’ in the protests.’

Rivera also emphasised the extent of reported abuses committed by police goes beyond the events of 9 and 10 September. So far this year, he said, there have been 137 reports of abuses committed by Bogota police, of which only 38 have been investigated. The ombudsman added that surveys show only a quarter of Bogota residents trust the police, while among those who attend protests the figure is drastically reduced to a mere three per cent.