The international community on Tuesday renounced what the UN described as an “excessive use of force” by security officials in Colombia after many deaths during days of protests against the government.
The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and human rights groups have joined the rally after official data showed that 19 people were killed and 846 injured in ongoing conflicts with security forces.
Colombia’s ombudsman for human rights – a government agency independent of the government – said 89 people were listed as “missing”.
Tens of thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets in demonstrations that began last Wednesday against a proposed tax reform but which have since turned into broader protests against President Ivan Duque’s government.
On Tuesday, protesters blocked roads in several parts of the country, coinciding with new demonstrations in the capital Bogota and in Cali in the western part of the country.
Cali, Colombia’s third largest city and worst affected by the ongoing unrest, has had soldiers patrolling its streets since last Friday on government orders.
The Ministry of Defense has distributed 47,500 uniformed personnel throughout the country. In Cali alone, 700 soldiers, 500 riot police, 1,800 other police officers and two helicopters have been put into operation.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed “deep shock” on Tuesday in an overnight incident in Cali where police reportedly “opened fire” on protesters and reportedly killed and injured several.
Cali in Korselden
“What we can say clearly is that we have received reports, and we have witnesses, of (excessive) use of force by security officials, shootings, live ammunition used, beatings of protesters and even detentions,” spokeswoman Marta Hurtado told reporters. in Geneva.
Colombian ombudsman Carlos Camargo said a member of his office, a representative of the public prosecutor tasked with prosecuting official offenses, and three human rights activists were attacked by public forces while helping detainees in Cali on Monday night.
The five “were threatened by national police, who repeatedly fired shots into the air and on the floor, threw stun grenades, verbally abused them and demanded that they leave,” he said.
A local security official said five people died in Cali overnight and 33 people were injured.
On Tuesday, roadblocks in the Cali region caused delays in petrol deliveries and concerns over the fate of trucks transporting oxygen and medical equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Call for peace
The UN called for calm ahead of new meetings scheduled for Wednesday, saying security forces should only use firearms as a last resort when faced with an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
The European Union also condemned the reported deaths – 18 civilians and one police officer nationwide so far.
The Duque’s government has officially acknowledged a civilian and a police death and blames violence organized by armed groups operating in the country.
“Nothing justifies armed people who, protected by the citizens’ legitimate desire to march, go out to shoot defenseless citizens and brutally attack our police,” said Duque, who on Sunday withdrew the proposed reform that sparked the first protests.
Three uniformed officers have been shot since the demonstrations began.
Defense Secretary Diego Molano said the violence was “systematic, deliberate and funded by criminal organizations.”
“Our public forces must be ruthless towards those who use vandalism,” the minister warned.
EU spokesman Peter Stano said it was a priority to stop the escalation of violence “and to avoid disproportionate use of force by security forces.”
And US State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Jalina Porter emphasized the right of all people to protest peacefully.
“Violence and vandalism are an abuse of that right. At the same time, we call for the utmost restraint from public forces to prevent further loss of life,” she said.
Amnesty International on Tuesday called for an “end to the repression of protests and the militarization of cities.”
The anti-government protests come at a time of economic despair for many, driven by the global health crisis.
In its worst half-century development, Colombia’s GDP fell by 6.8 percent in 2020 and unemployment was 16.8 percent in March.
According to official figures, almost half of the population lives in poverty.
Authorities have warned that the protests could cause an increase in coronavirus infections even though the country’s hospitals are already collapsing.