Police committed 7,394 violent acts against protesters, say human rights groups

Colombian human rights organisations have revealed the shocking extent of police violence during five months of National Strike protests launched earlier this year.

In late April, trade unions and social movements coordinated Colombia’s largest mobilisations in decades over soaring inequality, the ongoing human rights crisis and government disregard for the peace process. In response, police committed massive abuses against unarmed protesters, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from the United Nations, the European Union, several foreign governments and sections of the US congress and British and Irish parliaments.

According to the human rights campaign Defend Freedom (Defender la Libertad), which has charted state repression during protests, in the five months between 28 April and 28 September, police committed 7,394 acts of violence against protesters. The figures were provided in a special meeting convened by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which visited Colombia in June to assess the human rights situation. Also in attendance were social organisations and Colombian state officials. The IACHR called the meeting to follow up on the recommendations from its June visit.

Cases of violence include 87 killings (although police have not been confirmed as responsible in all of these), 93 cases of permanent eye injuries, 115 people injured by gunfire, 326 acts of aggression against human rights defenders, 1,905 people injured, more than 8,000 arbitrary arrests and 1,603 abuses of power. Alarmingly, more than 312 people remain unaccounted for having been reported as missing during protests.

Defend Freedom also said that there were 259 cases of human rights abuses against children under the age of 18, including four homicides. Women also faced 833 acts of violence, with four killings and 526 arrests.

British MPs and trade unions are among those to have also demanded accountability for state violence in Colombia. In a parliamentary debate in July, MPs called for Britain’s training of Colombian police to be suspended over human rights abuses, while they also said that human rights clauses in trade deals with Colombia should be fully upheld. In May, more than 20 trade unions urged the British government to publicly condemn state violence in Colombia and demand justice for victims.