Colombian Police Used Bus Terminals To Torture Protestors

Colombia police illegally used public bus terminals in the capital city Bogotá to torture and detain peaceful protestors this year. Anti-government demonstrations protesting social instability since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have been occurring for months and finally came to head when the government used public structures to violently repress protestors in May 2021. The police have been accused of a variety of illegal activity, including gender-based violence, use of lethal weapons, and murder of human rights defenders, social leaders, and peace representatives.

The torture allegations have been publicly confirmed through both councilmember support and testimony through survivors of the torture themselves. Diego Cancino, councilmember of Bogotá, confirmed the illegal use of Transmilenio stations and called attention to the “abusive displacement and aggressiveness of civil power” that harmed the protestors. The Office of the Attorney General of the Nation confirmed that 21 civilians died and over 800 were injured during the protests between April 28th and June 5th, 2021. Survivors of the attacks confirmed that they were traumatized by the use of force; victim Diego Luna tells Columbia Reports that the police “started to punch [him] until they threw [him] on the floor. They dragged [him] down the hallway while beating [him]. They are suffocating people with gas in a small room.” With these horrific testimonies being put forward, it is important to analyze the role of the Colombian police, and other authoritative systems, in this atrocity.

The use of police violence and torture are proof of the decade-long civil unrest present in Colombian systems of government. Colombian police are military actors, and they have utilized those tactics on peaceful protestors to suppress their human right to assemble. Citizens are making efforts to continue to use their voices despite the discernible forces against them, but it has been years of struggle to get to this violent point.

Since Iván Duque was elected as President of Colombia in 2018, the administration’s lack of political urgency in combatting social inequality, high poverty, and unemployment rates has incited mass demonstrations. Police violence has been occurring ever since in response to those demonstrations, with the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reporting that 133 human rights defenders were murdered between 2019 and 2020. With the government’s poor handing of COVID-19, and proposed legislation to raise taxes on essential items, the protests worsened. This brings us forward to the brutal treatment of protestors from April to June of 2021. In response to the verified allegations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conducted a working visit to Colombia, producing many observations and recommendations concerning the human rights violations. They legitimized the allegations and recommended a complete transformation of the Colombian framework to support citizen security.

Violence has slowed in recent months, but political and social unrest is still high. It is the Colombian government’s responsibility to take urgent action to implement these recommendations, focusing on the safety of its citizens. After decades of civil unrest, it is necessary to restructure state security bodies and adopt accountability measures for those forces. Police violence to this scope testifies to the necessity for these protests and calls into question what role the government truly takes when it comes to citizen protection.