State repression of peaceful protest continues with killings, attacks and threats

Despite international condemnation, Colombian security forces are still carrying out heavy repression against protesters, as Colombia approaches two months of massive ‘National Strike’ mobilisations over economic inequality and state violence. Several cities continue to see protests on a daily basis, with Cali, Popayán and Bogota among those most impacted.

On Monday 21 June, the Usme neighbourhood of south Bogota saw particularly high levels of aggression by the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD). The notorious police unit, which is behind many of the worst abuses since protests began, repeatedly attacked protesters, killing one person, injuring at least 42 and arresting many more. Media reports said that ESMAD agents also attacked medical teams and journalists, while threatening at least two human rights observers.

33-year-old Jaime Alonso Fandiño was killed after an ESMAD agent shot him in the chest with a high-powered projectile from close range. Witnesses said the victim immediately collapsed in convulsions, with police osbtructing a medical team from attending to the victim. Since protests began, several killings have been attributed to the ESMAD with little repercussion. Strike organisers are demanding the ESMAD’s withdrawal from protests and for state agents behind human rights violations to be called to account.

According to a statement by the Usme Human Rights Committee, an organisation based in the neighbourhoods where the repression was concentrated, ESMAD agents attacked a peaceful rally with teargas, stun grenades and other projectiles. ‘We condemn the violation of human rights through repressive actions and disproportionate use of force by the National Force [police],’ said the Committee.

Between 28 April and 16 June – covering 50 days of National Strike protests – the Temblores NGO, which monitors human rights abuses, registered security forces as having killed 43 people, with several other killings in various processes of verfication, including six suspected to have been committed by police and a further four which may have been committed by civilians with police collaboration. Temblores also documented 1,468 victims of police violence, 70 cases of eye injuries, 28 cases of sexual violence and 1,832 arbitrary detentions.

International organisations, including the United Nations, European Union and Organization of American States, as well as numerous foreign governments, have called for an end to the violence and and for full investigations into state abuses. This appears to have done little to deter the government’s ongoing attempts to crush the National Strike through force.