Cali (Colombia) (AFP)
The international community on Tuesday denounced what the UN described as “excessive use of force” by security agents in Colombia after scores of deaths during days of anti-government protests.
The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and rights organizations have joined a chorus of criticism after official data showed 19 people were killed and 846 injured in clashes with the forces of security.
The Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman – a state agency independent of the government – said 89 people were listed as “missing”.
Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets in protests that started last Wednesday against a tax reform bill, but have since grown into a larger protest against President Ivan Duque’s government.
Protesters blocked roads in several parts of the country on Tuesday, coinciding with new protests in the capital Bogota and Cali in the west of the country.
Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city and most affected by the ongoing unrest, has had soldiers patrolling its streets since last Friday on government orders.
The Ministry of Defense has deployed 47,500 people in uniform across the country. In Cali alone, 700 soldiers, 500 riot police, 1,800 other police officers and two helicopters were commissioned.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday expressed “deep shock” during an overnight incident in Cali in which police allegedly “opened fire” on protesters, killing and injuring several of them.
– Cali in the crossfire –
“What we can clearly say is that we have received information, and we have witnesses, (on) the excessive use of force by the security guards, the shooting, the use of live ammunition, beatings of demonstrators and also detentions, ”spokeswoman Marta Hurtado told reporters. in Geneva.
Ombudsman Carlos Camargo said a member of his office, a representative of the attorney general tasked with probing official wrongdoing, and three human rights activists were attacked by law enforcement while assisting detained in Cali on Monday evening.
The five “were threatened by national police officers who repeatedly fired in the air and on the ground, threw stun grenades, subjected them to verbal insults and demanded that they leave,” he said. he says.
A local security official said five people died in Cali overnight and 33 people were injured.
Blockades on main roads in the Cali area on Tuesday caused delays in gasoline deliveries and concerns about the fate of trucks carrying oxygen and medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
– Call for calm –
The UN has called for calm ahead of new rallies 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 has also condemned the reported deaths – 18 civilians and one police officer across the country so far.
Duque’s government has officially acknowledged the death of a civilian and a police officer, and accuses the violence orchestrated by armed groups operating in the country.
The violence, Defense Minister Diego Molano said, was “systematic, premeditated and financed 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 any disproportionate use of force by the security forces.
And US State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter stressed the right of all people to protest peacefully.
“Violence and vandalism are an abuse of this right. At the same time, we ask for the utmost restraint from the public forces to avoid further loss of human life, ”she declared.
Amnesty International called on Tuesday to “end the repression of demonstrations and the militarization of cities”.
The anti-government protests come at a time of economic desperation for many, fueled by the global health crisis.
In its worst performance in half a century, Colombia’s GDP fell 6.8% in 2020 and unemployment stood at 16.8% in March.
Almost half of the population lives in poverty, according to official figures.
Authorities have warned that the protests could cause an increase in coronavirus infections even as the country’s hospital system is already on the brink of collapse.
strawberries-mlr / bfm
© 2021 AFP