After Lethal Shootings At Protests, Reform Comes To Colombia’s Police Force

Following multiple reports of human rights violations and dozens of gun violence deaths, Colombia’s national police force will institute a training program in conjunction with the United Nations (UN) and the United States. The training program is intended to reform the existing police force and prevent further human rights abuses and deaths perpetrated by officers. The U.S. has provided a total of $11.85 million to fund the program, and the U.N. has set standards for the program curriculum. 

General Henry Sanabria, the head of the Columbian national police, spoke positively of the training program. Sanabria said, “With this project, we will strengthen our capacity to define, deploy and promote institutional human rights policies based on international standards.” Furthermore, Sanabria acknowledged the instrumental role that U.S. funding plays in the training program, stating that U.S. support is “fundamental for this new process of institutional transformation, [and] above all in this focus on human rights protection.” Todd Robinson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs stated that “this project will serve the police to create ties of trust with all the communities they serve.”

Police reform follows an official condemnation of Colombian policing of protests in December of 2021 by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner. Between April 28 and July 31, 2021, the UN Human Rights Office received 63 allegations of deaths as a result of protest policing. The HRO verified 46 deaths, including 44 civilians and 2 police officers. 76% of victims died from gunshot wounds.

By instituting the training program, President Gustavo Petro and his leftist coalition have shown their commitment to enacting institutional reform, as promised in Petro’s campaign platform. Further reforms by President Petro and Vice President Francia Marquez include the Unified Command Post for Life (PMU). PMU is intended to protect populations disproportionately impacted by political violence. This includes activists, environmentalists, and former combatants of FARC, the allegedly demobilized guerrilla organization. 

Police reform is desperately needed, not just in Colombia, but globally. Specifically, generalized training is a small, yet desperately needed, step toward total police reform in Colombia. If the training program is successful, then perhaps the U.S. could follow in the footsteps of President Petro and institute nationwide targeted training and standards for American police officers.