UN condemns violent repression of Colombia protests after at least 18 die
The United Nations has condemned the violent repression of protests in Colombia, after clashes between police and demonstrators left at least 18 dead and 87 people missing.
In a week of unrest across the country, riot police have rampaged across the smoke-filled streets, shooting protesters at point-blank range and charging at crowds with their motorcycles.
At least five people died in Cali amid fresh violence on Monday night. The south-western city, which has a large Afro-Colombian population, has been the setting for much for the violence since protests began peacefully with a nationwide general strike last Wednesday.
“We are deeply alarmed at developments in Cali overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators, and a number of people were killed and injured,” a UN human rights spokesperson said on Tuesday.
“Our duty is to protect those who protest – and those who do not – from those who disguise themselves and take advantage of these crowds to terrorize Colombians,” he said.
But witnesses said officers have seemed to exacerbate tensions. “It’s like the police are waiting for night to fall so they can roll up and start shooting indiscriminately,” said one community leader in a poor Cali neighbourhood that has been repeatedly raided by police. “Bodies are going to pile up, the dead on top of the dead.”
The leader said that each night brings a new cacophony: the whirl of police helicopters overhead while sirens, flashbangs and the fizz of teargas dominate the streets. Protesters, seeking to block the entry of riot police into their communities, set up roadblocks made of burning debris.
“The order was to militarize the city, so that’s what happens,” the leader said. “We hope the international community pays attention, because so far nobody else is.”
Cellphone footage circulated via social media showed scenes reminiscent of a war zone. In one, a bloody, apparently lifeless body is surrounded by a distressed crowd. “They shot him, son of a bitch!” onlookers can be heard screaming. In another, a civilian is seen collapsing limp to the ground after an officer on a motorcycle strikes him on the back of the head.
Temblores, a local NGO that monitors police violence, advised protesters in Cali to go home, as there were no guarantees of safety. “Your life comes before everything else and the state is deliberately attacking it,” they tweeted.
Authorities are investigating reports that members of a UN humanitarian mission were threatened and attacked. The city’s airport, from which over 25 flights depart each day, has now been closed. Roadblocks on the edges of the city, and on the road to the nearby Pacific seaport in Buenaventura, have also been reported on Tuesday morning.