In September of 2020, protests and riots broke out across Colombia triggered by a macabre murder of an unarmed law student by Colombian police, confronted steps outside his residence for consuming alcohol in public, violating COVID restrictions. At the time, police responding to protests, especially the ESMAD riot squads, were widely condemned for excessive brutality, and often turning peaceful protests into melees due to their attitude of “knock heads first, let the hospital sort them out.”
In Colombia, the national police report the minister of defense and are not under direct control of municipal administrations. Bogotá’s mayor Claudia Lopez asked for the report, commissioned by the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate the deaths in the Colombian capital on September 9 & 10 of last year.
The Ordoñez murder at the hands of the police triggered Colombia’s “George Floyd Moment.”
“The events of police violence, abuse and brutality that begun in the early hours of September 9 with the murder of Javier Ordoñez at the hands of National Police officers triggered one of the most serious episodes of human rights violations in the history of Bogota,” read the report. Police officer Juan Camilo Lloreda Cubillos was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the death of Ordoñez.
Chief investigator and former Colombian Ombudsman Carlos Negret said that the police actions met the UN definition of a massacre, when “three or more people are murdered in the same incident and by the same perpetrator. Negret has been criticized for bias as he is a current senatorial candidate for the New Liberalism political party.
“This is an institution that deserves the trust of Colombians. Every day we see police officers falling dead defending the life and rights of Colombians. We find the statements made by Mrs. Juliette (UN High Commissioner of Human Rights) absolutely reprehensible, almost giving support to a report from a private consultant who is doing a political campaign, the campaigns are never carried out at the expense of qualifying the state or the institutional framework that we have,” wrote Colombian Vice President & Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez in a letter of protest to the UN body.
“The city was under attack, so it is unacceptable that a police action is classified as a massacre. It was not a peaceful demonstration,” said Defense Minister Diego Molano in an interview with Colombia’s Caracol Radio network.
The report, which collected more than 100 testimonies and cited 450 sources and documents, documented seven violent practices from both police and protesters:
- Illicit use of force
- Violence against public forces
- Arbitrary detentions
- Gender-based violence
- Stigmatization of social protest
- Violence against public and private property
Due to Colombia’s recent record of police abuses, US congress has proposed to ban bilateral assistance to Colombia that may benefit ESMAD units and withholding approximately $8 million USD in anti-narcotics aid unless the US Secretary of State certifies that Colombian police are being held accountable for abuse of protesters.
The report says police and compliant prosecutors are dragging their feet on holding officers accountable. Of 427 active investigations of police misconduct related to the protests, only 2.5% have been brought to trial.
The rapporteur documented 14 murders – including that of Javier Ordoñez, firearm injuries to at least 75 people, injuries to at least 216 National Police officers, damage to 78 Transmilenio municipal buses (9 incinerated) and 51 neighborhood “SiTP” buses (5 incinerated) and damage to 76 CAI (17 burned and destroyed). CAI stands for Center of Immediate Attention and are small neighborhood police stations, usually of no more than two or three rooms, designed to disperse police presence within neighborhoods for a more rapid response.
“Of the victims, 14 were children of families who came to Bogotá in search of opportunities. And thirteen victims belonged to families whose income does not exceed the minimum wage. For the rapporteur, there is a criminalization of poverty by the public force,” said Negret. “I was asked to understand and explain the devastating acts of violence in those days. I insisted on the task, which lasted six months in Bogotá and (Bogotá’s southern suburb) Soacha, where families still mourn their dead, because most of them were killed by a bullet from the state,” he added.
Mayor Lopez announced that she will request a public hearing from both the President of the Republic and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to present the report of the Rapporteurship and to request that an interdisciplinary group of international experts be created to accompany the Colombian State in compliance with the recommendations made.
Above photo from left to right: Carlos Negret, former Ombudsman; Luis Ernesto Gómez, Secretary of Government; Claudia López, mayor of Bogotá; and Julieth de Rivero, Representative in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Courtesy Bogotá Mayor’s Office)