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Rights panel begins Colombia visit into possible abuses during protests

Published 06/07/2021, 05:39 PM
Updated 06/08/2021, 12:01 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People try to topple the statue of South American independence leader Simon Bolivar during a protest against sexual assault by the police and the excess of public force against peaceful protests, in Bogota, Colombia, May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Luis

By Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Representatives from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) met with Colombian officials on Monday ahead of a three-day visit to gather information about possible rights abuses during nearly six weeks of anti-government protests.

Dozens of deaths and injuries, many blamed on security forces, were connected to the demonstrations. The death toll of 21 confirmed by the government does not match those of protest groups and rights organizations, which say dozens more were killed.

The CIDH, an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States, met with Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez, the human rights ombudsman, attorney general and procurator.

The meeting with Ramirez also included Emilio Archila, the top official charged with implementing a 2016 peace deal, who is leading government negotiators at suspended talks with protest leaders.

"We had a long and productive meeting, with lots of information, many questions by the commission," CIDH President Antonia Urrejola said in remarks with Ombudsman Carlos Camargo.

"National human rights institutions like the ombudsman's office are always allies to the commission in their monitoring work and that's why this meeting was so important," Urrejola said.

Camargo said his office had shared information on the human rights situation during protests.

The CIDH will also meet with protest leaders, lawmakers and high court judges and collect testimony from victims of protest violence and their families.

Urrejola did not elaborate in a later news conference on what recommendations the CIDH might make following the visit.

"Once the visit is over, we will analyze all the information we've received and the listening spaces that were created and next week we will publish a public statement which will contain our observations and recommendations," she said.

President Ivan Duque has said his government will ask Congress to approve more training and increased oversight of police. An umbrella national strike committee suspended negotiations because the government has not signed a pre-agreement reached late last month.

Government negotiators say the pre-agreement was a draft and that the committee unilaterally ended talks, which covered everything from healthcare to a basic income.

The government has repeatedly called for the strike committee to condemn road blockades, which have caused shortages and stymied exports.

© Reuters. Representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and Antonia Urrejola (3rd L), president of CIDH, address the media, in Bogota, Colombia June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Nathalia Angarita

It is not within the remit of the CIDH to comment specifically on the negotiations, Urrejola said, but she urged Colombians to reach solutions through dialogue.

Protests and roadblocks have cost the economy close to $3 billion, the Finance Ministry estimates, with barricades halting shipments of oil, coal and coffee, and increasing food prices.

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