International Criminal Court to Determine Crimes Against Humanity in Colombian Protests

Colombia’s opposition has alleged top Government officials committed “crimes against humanity” before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Anti-government protests have been met with excessive police violence since late April, with 48 people and 1 police officer killed. Hundreds of protestors are missing, while nearly 1000 have also been arbitrarily detained. Over 1870 incidents of police violence have occurred. The protests were organized by trade unions and were aimed against proposed tax reforms by the Government. They come after rising poverty and soaring Covid-19 cases have crippled life in Colombia. Socio-economic breakdown has been ongoing following decades of internal drug-trafficking fueled internal conflict. Over 260,000 people have been killed, the majority of whom were civilians.

The charges are laid against President Ivan Durque, Defense Minister Diego Molano and security forces leadership. President Durque will also face accountability in May 2022, when the Colombian people will decide the next Presidential election. Numerous Colombian governments have already been on the ICC’s radar in recent decades regarding state terrorism and human rights breaches.

The case will likely be within the Court’s jurisdiction. Colombia is a member of the ICC. Under the Rome Statute of the ICC, the potentially relevant crimes against humanity include murder, unlawful imprisonment, persecution, enforced disappearance and sexual violence. The crimes will be met if they are “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population” and “with knowledge of the attack.” Alongside other requirements, the prosecution must prove that the crackdown constitutes an “attack.” Crimes against humanity have separately been alleged against 8 former leaders in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Meanwhile, over 50 US lawmakers have called for a pause in assistance to Colombia’s police. As part of the War on Drugs, the US has free use of military facilities in Colombia and gave $448 Million of aid in 2019. Much of that aid is used to support military and police forces with weapons and other equipment. Furthermore, Colombia is a partner of NATO, which has done little to deter the violence. Foreign support has been utilized as part of President Durque’s hardline approach to narcotics, while largely ignoring rampant poverty. Battle-hardened security forces appear to be applying their experiences and tactics regarding armed combatants to peaceful protestors. Such concerning developments are also seen in Brazil. The United Nations is “deeply disturbed” by a special forces police raid which killed at least 25 people in Rio de Janeiro’s Jacarezinho favela. Witnesses have described police conducting executions of unarmed people suspected of being involved in drug cartels.