On 1, 2 and 3 November, family members, survivors and victims of torture and other cruel treatment from 13 Latin American countries met in Bogota. Organised between IRCT and OMCT, the participants shared their experiences with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Edwards, and international and regional human rights organisations. It was the first time the group had met in person together, and the first time any Special Rapporteur on Torture had engaged with survivors from across an entire region.

Following the meetings, the group issued what they called the Bogota Declaration.


Expert Opinion Substantiates Evidence of Police Brutality

Mass protests in Colombia against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque have been met by a brutal response from police. Has that use of force amounted to torture and other ill treatment? After reviewing photographic evidence of violence against protesters, IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) issued an expert opinion that concluded live ammunition was being used on and had caused the deaths of individuals, and that police weapons such as teargas and kinetic impact projectiles were being misused, causing death and severe injury.

The opinion supported a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that confirmed 34 deaths had occurred during the crackdown. The report highlighted IFEG’s evidence and was cited in over 800 media sources, including leading news agencies such as the Associated Press, in both Spanish and English.  IRCT also supplied HRW and other civil society actors with a standardised reporting form to assist in gathering evidence of torture, as well as a guide on documenting torture committed during protests and detention. This was shared on social media, and re-posted thousands of times on Twitter.

“Beatings and degrading treatment by the police on detained demonstrators are being used as a form of physical and psychological torture. It is used for the explicit purpose of instilling psychological terror in the population as a way of exercising authoritarian control.”

Ángela Ospina, Director of IRCT member the Centre for Psychological Assistance (CAPS)

HRW found at least 20 protesters were likely directly killed by the police. Local NGOs, including the Defend Freedom Campaign and IRCT member the Centre for Psychological Assistance (CAPS), have documented at least 78 deaths around the protests, with at least 98 injured.

In the municipality of Madrid, near the capital Bogotá, CAPS said evidence had been gathered of police beating to death 24-year-old Elvis Vivas, a car assembly worker who had joined protests in his local neighbourhood of El Sosiego.

In total, nearly 4,000 cases of physical violence against protesters have been documented, according to CAPS, with around 100 of those being specific gender-based sexual violence, including multiple rapes.

President Duque has repeatedly insisted that most Colombian police respect the human rights of civilians, and has said that any police who act illegally will be punished. On 6 June, he announced steps to “transform” the police. In its last review of Colombia in 2015, the Committee Against Torture expressed concern “at the number of persons who have been shot to death or wounded by gunshot during confrontations between demonstrators and security forces in the course of social protests.”

Evidence shows 24-year-old Elvis Vivas was beaten to death by Colombian police during a protest in El Sosiego near Bogotá in early May, 2021.

Woman holding a plastic eye in her hand to protest the 65 people who have lost their eyes in confrontation with the police during demonstrations in Colombia. This photo was taken on 9 June 2021, when Human Rights Watch released its report documenting widespread abuse and killings by the police. The report relies on IRCT’s expert analysis of the evidence and was referenced in over 800 media sources. Photo by Antonio Cascio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For the full text of CAPS’ findings from its work on torture in the context of the on-going police violence against protesters in Colombia please click here for the original Spanish statement, and here for the translation in English. Quotations should be taken from the original Spanish.

More information

From Torture Journal

Who are they to say? Experiences and legal recognition of victimhood of enforced disappearance in Colombia and El Salvador

Enabling a transformative dialogue in cases of enforced disappearances: voices of the families of the missing in the Monitoring Compliance with Judgments stage of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights