United Nations human rights office, OHCHR, is voicing deep alarm over the violence in the city of Cali in Colombia, as a number of people were reportedly killed and wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators.
This is happening as OHCHR, last February welcomed progress on the investigation in people falsely presented as having been killed in combat as “an important step in fighting impunity”.
So-called “false positives” cases refer to civilians that have been extrajudicially killed by the Colombian army and then falsely labelled as enemies in order to inflate body counts and receive promotions or other benefits.
“Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which was set up to prosecute crimes committed during the armed conflict, announced that it was investigating the killing of 6,402 people, far higher than the initial figure of some 2,000 that they received to investigate”, said OHCHR Spokesperson Liz Throssell.
She underscored the extremely important and legitimate work of victims’ groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in combatting impunity and obtaining justice, calling their contributions “essential for the realization of the rights to truth and reparation for victims”.
Ms. Throssell also welcomed the Special Jurisdiction’s decision to prosecute the secretariat of the former FARC freedom fighters for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, particularly hostage-taking.
She maintained that the Special Jurisdiction’s work to fight against impunity will help Colombia to address past serious violations of international law and prevent future recurrences.
“We stress once again that accountability for these crimes and the protection of victims’ rights is essential for the consolidation of peace and the strengthening of rule of law in Colombia”, Ms. Throssell said.
OHCHR office in Colombia has been working to verify the exact number of casualties, and establish how the incident came about in Cali.
“We express our profound shock at the events there and stress our solidarity with those who have lost their lives, as well as the injured and their families”, she said.
Ms. Hurtado added that human rights defenders also reported having been harassed and threatened.
The protests, which began last Wednesday with a general strike over proposed tax reforms, continued despite an announcement from the Colombian presidency on Sunday that the reform bill would be removed from Congress. The Finance Minister is also reported to have resigned.
According to the UN human rights office, the majority of the protests so far have been peaceful but it has received allegations of at least 14 deaths in different parts of Colombia, including at least one police officer, since the demonstrations started.
There have also been calls for a “massive demonstration” on Wednesday.
“Given the extremely tense situation, with soldiers as well as police officers deployed to police the protest, we call for calm”, the OHCHR spokesperson said.
She also reminded the State authorities of their responsibility to protect human rights, including the right to life and security of person, and to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
“We stress also that law enforcement officers should abide by the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality when policing demonstrations. Firearms can only be used as a measure of last resort against an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.”