Colombian police killed 86 people in 2020, report reveals

Instances of violence pointed to ‘structural and systematic’ abuses within the police force and sparked calls for reform

Police officers in Colombia killed 86 people last year, according to a local NGO which reported “structural and systematic” abuses in the South American nation’s police force.

Temblores, an non-governmental organization that monitors state violence, also documented 7,992 cases of assault and 30 cases of sexual violence, with migrant communities and Afro-Colombians often the victims.

“This violence isn’t just because of a few rotten apples, it’s part of the architecture of the Colombian state,” said Alejandro Lanz, the director of the group’s police violence observatory.

The report prompted opposition lawmakers and activists on Wednesday to call on the government to end the abuses, many tweeting with the hashtag #ReformaPolicialYa (Police Reform Now).

“The absence of legitimacy around the the police, the grave abuses, the impunity and the pressure from [riot police] over protests are shameful,” wrote María José Pizarro, an opposition congresswoman, on Wednesday. “Without trust there is no security or authority.”

Police violence is endemic across Latin America, where protests are often met with deadly force, and police officers from Mexico to Brazil are often themselves involved in violent crime and carry out extrajudicial killings with impunity.

Last September, protests broke out in cities across Colombia after a lawyer, Javier Ordóñez, was killed by police. The incident was captured with phone footage that went viral: Ordóñez was pinned down by officers and repeatedly shocked with a Taser for over two minutes while he begged: “Please, no more.”

Thirteen people were killed and hundreds were injured by police officers during the ensuing unrest in Bogotá, the capital, and nearby city Soacha, while dozens of police precincts were vandalized and torched.

Two officers were placed under investigation for their role in Ordóñez’s death at the time, but no one has been convicted.

The figures released on Wednesday also show that the police often fail to investigate malpractices, and undercount cases of abuse by officers.

“We know from press reports and other sources that up to at least 10 people died in the protests last September, but state records claim that it was only five,” said Lanz. “The numbers of police abuses are far higher than the state is reporting.”

Both Colombia’s police and military have long been accused of human rights abuses, many of which were committed under the banner of the country’s civil war with leftist insurgent groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The government signed a peace deal with Farc in 2016, though violence persists throughout the country.

A police code released after that deal gave officers broader scope to fine people, something which Lanz said emboldened the police. Ordóñez, the man killed in September, was initially stopped for drinking alcohol in public, something prohibited by the new code.

“Then, with the Covid lockdowns that began last year, the police had even more control over who got to be in public space,” Lanz said.


Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá.

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Two notorious Colombian warlords to face off in truth commission hearing
Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko, led the leftwing Farc guerrillas, while Salvatore Mancuso was head of a rightwing death squad during the civil war

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

17, Mar, 2021 @4:25 PM

Article image
‘A police massacre’: Colombian officers killed 11 during protests against police violence, report finds
Protesters against police brutality were met with more police brutality

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

13, Dec, 2021 @5:37 PM

Article image
‘This is a revolution’: the faces of Colombia’s protests
Fifty-eight people have died in six weeks of unrest, but demonstrators say they are more determined than ever to fight for change

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá. Pictures by Nadège Mazars

09, Jun, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Colombia found responsible for 2000 kidnap and torture of journalist
Jineth Bedoya was abducted in May 2000 outside a Bogotá prison where she was due to interview a paramilitary leader

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

19, Oct, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Colombia tribunal reveals at least 6,402 people were killed by army to boost body count
The killings, which took place between 2002 and 2008, were declared combat kills in order to boost statistics in war with rebel groups

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

19, Feb, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
‘I just need my son’: the people who disappeared amid Colombia’s protests
Seventy-seven people have vanished since the start of the unrest in late April – some protesters, others not linked to the demonstrations

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá

07, Jul, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
‘Makes you sick’: fury in Rio as pregnant 24-year-old killed amid police raid
Kathlen Romeu’s death marks latest fatality among Black favela residents as police clash with drug gangs

Flávia Milhorance in Rio de Janeiro

10, Jun, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
More rights defenders murdered in 2021, with 138 activists killed just in Colombia
Most of 358 victims worked on land, environmental and indigenous rights, with more killed in Mexico, India and among Afghan women

Karen McVeigh

02, Mar, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘If I go back, I’ll die’: Colombian town scrambles to accommodate 10,000 migrants
Necoclí, population 20,000, faces bottleneck as Covid rules lift and unrest, poverty and violence grow across region

Joe Parkin Daniels in Necoclí

08, Aug, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
El Salvador reels as 6,000 people arrested in unprecedented crackdown
Authoritarian populist president Nayib Bukele has suspended rights in state of emergency justified as attack on MS13 gang

Bryan Avelar in San Salvador and Santa Tecla, and Nina Lakhani

05, Apr, 2022 @10:30 AM