More than two months after street protests began in Bogota, which left dozens dead, an international human rights body has accused Colombian security forces of using “disproportionate and excessive force” in dealing with protesters.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report, released on Wednesday, adds to criticisms of Colombian President Ivan Duque’s government, which has been accused of a harsh crackdown since protests began on April 28.
The protests were sparked by a divisive tax overhaul proposed by Duque as part of the country’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Critics argued that the changes would hurt the middle class.
Since then, the tax reform has been shelved. However, protests and marches have grown in size and frequency in response to a variety of issues, including the country’s persistent income inequality and allegations of police brutality.
More than 70 people have been killed on the streets in Colombia, according to human rights organizations, since the protests began, many of whom they claim were killed by Colombian security forces.
The Colombian Attorney General, on the other hand, disputes those figures, claiming that only 24 deaths have been linked to the protests. Colombia’s National Police said in a statement to CNN that it had opened investigations into 16 cases of alleged police murders.
The Colombian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting some of the IACHR’s recommendations, claiming that “lethal cases involving members of the security forces are exceptional.”
Duque also spoke out against the report, saying that “nobody can recommend a country to be tolerant of criminal acts.”
Colombia, he said, is a country that “respects peaceful protest.” “Acts of vandalism, urban terrorism, and roadblocks are confronted with the constitution and the law,” he added.
Under the auspices of the Organization of American States, the IACHR investigates allegations of human rights violations in the Americas. It has identified the use of non-lethal weapons by security forces against protesters as a particularly concerning source of injuries and mutilations.
Brayan Nio, Marlin Nio’s brother, died on May 1 in Madrid, a Bogota suburb, after being hit by a gas canister fired by a police vehicle. The Colombian attorney general charged a police major with murdering the 24-year-old protester after his death.
Prior to his arrest, the mayor spoke to local media and expressed regret for the protesters’ deaths, but claimed that he followed police procedures when dealing with street protests.
Colombia’s Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz promised that the Colombian government would show zero tolerance for police abuses in an exclusive interview with CNN prior to the release of the IACHR report. He viewed the investigation by the Attorney General as an opportunity to present evidence to the entire country.
However, Nio’s sister, Marlin, told CNN in June that she is concerned that her brother’s death will go unpunished.
“Sometimes I am so overwhelmed I just don’t want to know any more and be over it. My brother’s dead… but at the same time I tell myself: today is my brother, tomorrow who else could it be?” she stated.