Colombian police were responsible for the deaths of 11 protesters during anti-police protests that swept the capital in September 2020, according to a report published on Monday after an independent investigation backed by the mayor of Bogotá’s office and the United Nations.
“It was a police massacre,” wrote Carlos Negret, a former ombudsman of the South American country who led the investigation, in the scathing and lengthy report published on Monday. “A decisive political and operational leadership, based on rights, was needed at national and local levels to avoid this happening.”
Protests swept Bogotá and the suburb of Soacha in September last year, after footage went viral that showed police officers pinning down and tasering a father of two who had been detained for breaking Covid restrictions. “Please, no more!,” he can be heard begging in the clip. He died shortly later from injuries sustained in custody.
The incident was compared to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, footage of which also went viral and triggered widespread protests.
Ordoñez’s death prompted protests which were met by a violent response by police officers who used “less-lethal” rounds, billy clubs and teargas while protesters set dozens of police kiosks ablaze across the city. Alongside 14 protesters killed – 11 of whom were killed by police – hundreds of demonstrators and officers were injured.
Most of the deaths occurred in poorer neighbourhoods of the city, leading investigators to conclude in Monday’s report that “there exists a criminalization of poverty by the state forces, which unleashed authoritarian and illegal actions against residents of certain social sectors.”
“The most representative and generalized practice during these days of protest was the illicit use of force on the part of members of the national police,” the report found. “This investigation concludes that the national police openly abandoned the principles of proportionality.”
The investigation was carried out at the request of Bogotá’s mayor, Claudia López, and was supported by the UN development program.
“Who should assume political responsibility?” asked López in a response included in the report. “Me, to begin with, but also the police and president [Iván Duque].”
At the time of the protests, López called on Duque to calm the police, who answer to the defense ministry. The president had painted protesters as “urban terrorists”, borrowing talking points from the country’s decades-long civil war against leftist insurgents.
Alejandro Lanz, co-director of Temblores, a local police violence watchdog, said the report showed systemic failures in the justice system which have allowed responsible police officers to escape prosecution and punishment.
“The most worrying thing is that the vast majority of police officers involved in the massacre still patrol the streets of our city,” said Lanz. “It’s surprising that only four police officers have been charged, and only one of them has been deprived of their liberty, and that is just under house arrest.”
“It’s extremely alarming to see the difference in how the attorney generals’ office and the justice system behaves in cases when the police are the presumed perpetrators, and when it is people that have participated in protests,” Lanz went on to say.
Protests in Colombia continue to be met by police violence. In April this year, the police response to nationwide anti-poverty demonstrations was similarly brutal, with at least 20 people killed by police officers in the ensuing months of unrest, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The response of the state was characterised by an excessive and disproportionate use of force, in many cases, including lethal force,” Inter American Commission on Human Rights president Antonia Urrejola said during a press conference in July.