11 Jun 2021
Colombia: Evidence of Torture by Police Must Be Investigated

Credible evidence of systematic and disproportionate violence used by Colombian police against mainly peaceful protesters amount to torture and must be urgently investigated by state authorities, the IRCT said today.

Colombia: Evidence of Torture by Police Must Be Investigated

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.

“Coherent and consistent accounts from prisons, and expert opinion verifying the evidence of excessive police violence against protestors amount to torture and ill treatment, and require immediate investigation and prosecution by Colombian authorities,” said Asger Kjaerum, Advocacy Director at the IRCT.

The IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) concluded from a review of photographic evidence that 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.

IRCT’s expert opinion was used in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published on 9 June that confirmed 34 deaths have occurred in the context of on-going nationwide protests against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque, which broke out in late April. 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.

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.

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

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.”

For more information

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. 

“Beatings and degrading treatment by the police are being used as a form of physical and psychological torture.”

Ángela Ospina, Director of CAPS

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