UN body raises concerns over investigations into police abuses in Colombia

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. The body also criticised the use of anti-terrorism legislation to persecute protesters.

The committee said that police engaged in a ‘disproportionate use of force’ which included the use of armaments and teargas. In a document published on 8 May, it said it had received reports of physical and psychological torture carried out by police against peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists. Other abuses included forced disappearance, sexual assault and arbitrary attention.

All the reports should be investigated with haste and impartiality, said the committee. It also called for guarantees that state agents suspected of abuses face trial under the standard justice system rather than its military counterpart often used in cases involving security personnel.

According to Colombian human rights organisations, police killed at least 44 unarmed people during protests over inequality and human rights abuses in April-July 2021. There were also widespread instances of permanent eye injuries (96 cases), sexual violence (35 cases), physical violence (1,661 cases) and arbitrary detentions (2,053 cases). Despite clear evidence against police officers, the vast majority of abuses have remained in impunity.

Beyond the National Strike protests, the UN Committee found evidence of summary or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces, as well as killings and other abuses committed by armed groups. It also raised concerns over use of force in the overcrowded prison system, highlighting the killing by prison officials of 23 inmates in Bogota’s La Modelo prison in March 2020.  

The Committee called on the Colombian state to establish a stronger state presence in conflict zones, in line with recommendations presented in last year’s Truth Commission report.