A Colombian police officer in riot gear points a tear gas cannon at protesters. © DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images

Colombia: The National Police must be comprehensively reformed

Today a diverse and broad group of Colombian human rights organizations and victims of excessive use of force by Colombian security forces presented, in collaboration with Amnesty International, a set of proposals with a differential, intersectional and human rights-based approach for comprehensive reform of the police. This document, the result of a concerted process of participation and discussion, was delivered to President Gustavo Petro’s government in order to inform discussion of reform in the country.

Repression in the Spotlight: Proposals for Comprehensive Reform of the Police sets out the need to, at a minimum, demilitarize Colombia’s National Police; modify its general structure and functions; reform recruitment, career paths and promotion practices; limit the use of force by members of the National Police; establish monitoring mechanisms and citizen oversight of police activity; and guarantee truth, justice, and reparation for victims of police violence.

“In Colombia, the National Police regularly use excessive force against protesters to instil fear, discourage peaceful protest and punish those demanding change in the country. The Colombian government must initiate comprehensive reform of the police with a human rights focus and the National Police must refrain from violating the rights of those who speak out,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. “The incidents reported during the mass demonstrations and protests of recent years must never be repeated. The Colombian state must take decisive steps towards creating a National Police force that guarantees the rights of all people.”

Amnesty International has also issued 25 Rules for the Deployment and Use of Kinetic Impact Projectiles in Law Enforcement, a document summarizing international standards on the appropriate use of such projectiles. Given that their use carries considerable risks of causing serious harm, their deployment should be governed by a careful analysis of operational needs in each context. The document calls on governments to recognize their human rights obligations and to ensure kinetic impact projectiles are used only in exceptional situations, when appropriately justified and in a careful manner that avoids excessive harm. They should never be used as a means of dispersing a protest, or against people engaged in peaceful actions or simply passively resisting or running away. The use of multiple projectiles should be prohibited.

Human rights violations during National Strike

Amnesty International documented grave human rights violations against peaceful protesters during the 2021 National Strike, including excessive use of force, inappropriate use of less lethal weapons, torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, sexual and gender-based violence against women and LGBTIQ+ people and attacks against Indigenous people. In addition, it has confirmed the long-term impact of these violations, as in the case of young people who sustained eye trauma from the inappropriate use of kinetic impact projectiles.

In its July 2021 report, Cali: In the Epicenter of Repression, Amnesty International documented how violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, urban paramilitarism, arbitrary arrests and torture and ill-treatment inflicted on peaceful protesters in Cali instilled fear, discouraged peaceful protest and ultimately punished those demanding change in the country.

In November 2021, Amnesty International, together with the local organizations Temblores and PAIIS, published the report Shoots on Sight, detailing 12 cases of victims of eye injuries and analysed more than 300 pieces of audiovisual material documenting the unlawful actions of the Mobile Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the National Police between 28 April and 20 October 2021, all verified by Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps. The report concludes that, in the context of the National Strike in Colombia, members of ESMAD committed widespread human rights violations against protesters by inflicting eye injuries through the disproportionate use of less lethal weapons.

In December 2022, Amnesty International issued the report “The Police Does Not Care for Me”: Sexual and Other Gender-Based Violence in the 2021 National Strike, in which it highlights repeated and widespread practices of violence against women, girls and LGBTIQ+ people by Colombian security forces through the documentation of 28 cases of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, drawn from hundreds of complaints received during the 2021 National Strike.

The following organizations have declared their support for the proposals set out in the document published today in collaboration with Amnesty International:

  • Asociación para la Investigación Social
  • NOMADESC
  • Caribe Afirmativo
  • Modep
  • Ilex acción Jurídica
  • DeJusticia
  • Colectivo Justica Racial
  • Justicia y Democracia
  • Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado
  • Campaña Defender la Libertad
  • Fundación Trenza
  • Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos
  • Fundación Lazos de Dignidad
  • Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos
  • Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo
  • Comisión Colombiana de Juristas
  • Humanidad Vigente
  • Raza & Igualdad
  • Red contra el abuso de autoridad
  • Mocao