Today, the ICJ called upon the responsible authorities to ensure that prompt, transparent, thorough, impartial and effective investigations are carried out of allegations of extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations by the Colombian police during recent street protests.
The ICJ stressed that any official responsible should be prosecuted and brought to justice and victims of any violations be provided an effective remedy and reparation.
From 9 September to 10 September 2020, mass protests against serious human rights violations by Colombian police took place in Bogota, following the death of Javier Ordóñez. Ordoñez died in police custody after he had been subjected to severe ill-treatment, including by prolonged taser shock.
The protests were met with acts of unlawful, unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police. The protests left 13 people dead, and more than 200 injured.
The incidents have been condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which pointed to allegations of unlawful detention and ill-treatment of persons arrested following the demonstrations. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concern at the allegations the use of excessive force during the protests.
According to witness accounts, police opened fire against people who were protesting peacefully. Some of the victims killed were said to be people who had not taken part in the protests and died due to stray bullets. Some videos of police conduct have been circulated on social media.
Similarly, Bogota Mayor, Claudia López Hernández, has affirmed that she had handed over videos of police shooting indiscriminately against people during the protests to the Office of the Attorney General and other authorities. In addition, she shared part of the videos on her Twitter account.
The ICJ recalls that under international standards governing the use of force by law enforcement officials, lethal force may never be used unless strictly necessary to protect life.
The ICJ stresses that investigations must be impartial and the need for investigators to be independent of the police. Equally important, the investigations must take place within the civilian rather than the military justice system.
The ICJ is also concerned at the threats received by human rights lawyers who have been working working to document possible human rights violations during the protests.
The protests were triggered by the death of Javier Ordoñez, who died at a police facility (Comando de Acción Inmediata, CAI), on the early morning of 9 September.
A video shows that before being transferred to the facility, Ordoñez was repeatedly shocked by policemen with a stun gun while on the ground and did not represent any threat to life or safety the police or other persons. Initial results of the investigation, including the autopsy report, indicate that Ordoñez was hit in the head, neck, shoulders, and chest inside the police facility.
On 11 September 2020, the Police and the Ministry of Defence offered an “apology” for any violation of the law that may have been committed by the police, without acknowledging any specific wrongdoing.
Subsequently, on 16 September, the Minister of Defence recognized that Javier Ordóñez was murdered by the police. Although he stated that the Police respect peaceful protests, he also said the protests of September 9 and 10 were a massive and systematic attack against the police.
Along the same lines, on 13 September 2020, the office of the Mayor of Bogotá held a ceremony of “forgiveness and reconciliation”. The ceremony had the participation of some of the victims, who demanded justice.
On 17 September 2020, the Office of the Attorney General filed arrest warrants against two policemen involved in the murder of Ordóñez. The warrants have been granted by a judge. Both policemen had been arrested.
In accordance with Colombia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, investigations “must always be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent”.
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require that any the use of force is exceptional, necessary, and proportional and that lethal force may only be used when strictly necessary to protect life.
Colombia has been recently facing a significant increase in serious human right violations and abuses, including unlawful killings. For example, since the Peace Agreement was signed in November 2016, there has been an upward trend in the killings, death threats, and harassments against human rights defenders.
As of December 2019, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia verified 303 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders since the signature of the Peace Agreement. So far, during 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia has documented 47 killings of human rights defenders and is reviewing other potential 44 cases.
Carolina Villadiego, Legal and Policy Adviser, Latin America. Email: carolina.villadiego(a)icj.org
Rocío Quintero M, Legal Adviser, Latin America. Email: rocio.quintero(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories