Impunity on Police Violence during the 2021 National Strike

Almost two years after the 2021 National Strike, the high-ranking members of state security forces investigated for serious human rights violations committed during the repression of protests remain in total impunity. Of the 3,169 criminal acts reported, the Prosecutor General’s Office only attributed 65 cases to the state security forces,[1] of which 11 were archived and, to date, there have been no convictions.[2] Meanwhile, 230 young people are being prosecuted for leading the protest.[3]

Among other serious human rights violations committed in the context of the protests, enforced disappearance was a systematic practice, the full scope of which is still unknown. Several human rights organizations have collected testimonies and complaints about individuals disappeared during the 2021 protests and highlight the impunity surrounding these cases. Recently, Sergio Venegas, a businessman in charge of administering cemeteries in Bogotá, accused the National Police of using crematorium ovens to disappear up to 300 individuals during the National Strike.[4] Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the human rights observatory at the Coordination Colombia Europe United States (CCEEU), indicates that the whereabouts of 87 individuals who may have been disappeared at the Bogotá cemeteries are still unknown.[5]

The gravity of human rights violations allegedly committed by state security forces and a refusal to assume responsibility is framed in the context of impunity that prevails within the Colombian National Police. In December 2022, several leaders who denounced human rights violations committed by state security forces in the context of the protests were declared military targets, allegedly by the Gaitain Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC)—a group that arose out of the paramilitary structure.[6] These individuals include the director of NOMADESC, Berenice Celeita, the organization’s lawyer, Lina Pelaez, and Walter Agredo, a member of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP). No progress has been made to clarify these events to date.[7]

According to Óscar Ramírez, CSPP president, impunity is a direct consequence of the lack of external control of the institution, due to the military nature of the National Police.[8] The recent report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as follow up to the 41 recommendations made to the Colombian state after the repression of 2021 protests highlights concerns over the generalized impunity and reports only a “partial compliance” with just three of the recommendations.[9] This reflects the need for a structural reform of the National Police, which was an important promise from the new administration and a historic request from human rights organizations in Colombia. This bill, still pending approval in the National Congress, includes the key element of transferring the National Police from the Ministry of Defense to a civilian ministry.[10] The objective of the reform is to end police violence, redress its impacts, and guarantee non-repetition as a commitment to the thousands of family members and victims of police violence in Colombia who still await truth and justice.

PBI Colombia.

[1]In these 65 cases of human rights violations attributable to state security forces, there were 745 victims of human rights violations.

[2] Ccajar (@Ccajar): tweet, 26 January 2023.

[3]RCN Radio: Gobierno Petro revisará situación de 230 jóvenes detenidos durante paro nacional, 4 December 2023.

[4] Cambio: Historias de terror en los cementerios distritales de Bogotá, 14 January 2023.

[5] Infobae: Más de 80 casos de desaparecidos en el Paro Nacional de 2021 en Bogotá registra ONG, 17 January 2023.

[6] PBI Colombia (@pbicolombia): Tweet, 26 December 2022.

[7] WRadio: Organizaciones critican a Clan del Golfo por panfletos en medio del cese al fuego, 23 January 2023.

[8] Temblores ONG: Reflexiones sobre la Reforma Policial, 5 May 2022.

[9] El Espectador: El pobre cumplimiento de Colombia de las recomendaciones de la CIDH sobre el paro, 27 January 2023.

[10] El Espectador: Otra comisión de la verdad, cambio en la Policía y otros proyectos del PND, 7 February 2023.

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