Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused police of “egregious abuses” against protesters in demonstrations that have been raging for weeks in Colombia.

The rights organization said that it has confirmed that 34 people died “in the context of the protests,” including two police officers, a criminal investigator and 31 “demonstrators or bystanders, at least 20 of whom appear to have been killed by the police.”

“These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue officers, but rather the result of systemic shortcomings of the Colombian police,” HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said, as he called for “comprehensive reform” clearly separating the police from the military.

The demonstrations, which started in April and have been held in multiple cities, have been mostly peaceful, the watchdog said, though “some individuals have committed grave acts of violence.”

Initially demonstrators had protested against a tax reform that has since been withdrawn. Opposition to a health reform – now also scrapped – and advocacy for the fragile peace process were then some of the new issues that brought people out onto the streets.

Colombia has lived through a civil war that lasted more than 50 years and cost the lives of 220,000 people. In 2016, the government made a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla movement, boosting the economy and the tourism industry – but peace is fragile and police violence widespread.

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