Press Release

IACHR Condemns Excessive Use of Police Force, Expresses Concern about Violence During Public Demonstrations in Colombia

September 16, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns acts of police brutality and abuse in Colombia on September 8, 9 and 10. The Commission is also concerned about the alleged use of firearms by officers of the country’s National Police in the context of demonstrations in several cities. The IACHR stresses that protests must always be peaceful and rejects all forms of violence in that context.

According to publicly available reports, on September 8, officers of Bogotá’s Metropolitan Police from the 47th division of the Immediate Action Group (CAI, by its Spanish acronym) in Villa Luz went to the Santa Cecilia Anillo 17 neighborhood, in the district of Engativá, Bogotá, where they arrested Javier Ordóñez. During the raid, which was recorded on video by other individuals at the site, two police officers hit Ordóñez and repeatedly subjected him to electric shocks, although he had previously been immobilized and was lying on the ground. Further, Ordóñez was reportedly taken to CAI facilities, where he died while in police custody.

The Commission notes progress in this investigation, as well as the swift identification and temporary removal from their positions of the police officers involved in these events. However, the IACHR stresses that—in keeping with inter-American jurisprudence—cases of human rights violations allegedly committed by officers of the State against civilians must be tried exclusively by the civilian justice system. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has repeatedly said that cases involving civilians must never be tried by the military justice system. The military justice system should only handle crimes and other offenses that exclusively affect legal assets of the military system.

Further, the IACHR observes with great concern the violence that broke out in several cities around the country during the demonstrations that followed this case of police violence. According to official reports, at least 13 people—including two 17-year-olds—died during protests on September 9 and 10 (with ten dead in Bogotá and three in Soacha). At least eight of the dead had been shot with firearms. The Commission also heard allegations of a failure by police officers to assist Camilo Hernández, one of the dead.
According to publicly available reports, more than 200 civilians and 194 police officers had been injured by September 11. Among the civilians injured on September 9, 19 had allegedly been shot.

Further, according to audiovisual materials that have been broadly distributed, police officers allegedly shot in the direction of demonstrators in various circumstances. As the IACHR noted in its report Protest and Human Rights, there are no grounds for the use of lethal force during a demonstration, or for firing indiscriminately into a crowd. The Commission has said that potentially lethal force must never be used to preserve or restore law and order or to protect legal assets that are less valuable than life, including property. The IACHR therefore urges the State to investigate these events promptly and with due diligence, in compliance with the applicable inter-American standards.

Further, according to the available information, 75 individuals remained under arrest by September 11 in cases linked to these demonstrations. According to official reports, several allegations were made of ill-treatment, beatings, torture, and, in one case, sexual abuse by police officers in these raids. The Commission also noted the allegations made by human rights defenders concerning police actions linked to unwarranted arrests of defenders, physical and symbolic attacks, and harassment linked to defenders’ work, as well as confiscations of cell phones and of alleged audiovisual evidence of violations of the rights of demonstrators.

The IACHR urges the State of Colombia to investigate these events and establish what happened, and also to try and punish the people responsible for them. The Commission also calls on the authorities to immediately end the disproportionate use of force by the State’s law enforcement agencies. The IACHR stresses that police action to preserve law and order must strictly comply with international human rights standards concerning the use of force, including the exceptionality, proportionality, and absolute necessity principles. The IACHR also reminds the State of its duty to protect the rights to life, integrity, and freedom to demonstrate.

Finally, the Commission strongly condemns all violence and stresses that social protest is legitimate as long as it is peaceful. The IACHR further reminds the State that the security forces have the obligation to allow demonstrations and protests to take place and to isolate any demonstrators who resort to violence. The Commission stresses its rejection of all forms of violence and calls on the State to conduct an impartial, comprehensive, and timely investigation of both human rights violations and any crimes that may have been committed in the protest context, as well as to prosecute and punish anyone responsible for those actions.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 219/20