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The Supreme Court urges the Duque Government to apologize for the repression of the 2019 protests

A group of students sing the national anthem and hold signs with the image of Dilan Cruz, during a demonstration in November 2019 demanding justice for the young man.Fernando Vergara / AP

At the most critical moment in the relationship between the Police and citizens, broken after reports of police abuse that have left 13 civilians dead in recent days, the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia, the highest instance of the ordinary jurisdiction, ordered this Tuesday to the Government of Iván Duque not to stigmatize social protest. In addition, the ruling indicates that he must apologize through his Minister of Defense for the “excesses registered since the mobilization of November 21, 2019”, among other measures.

The decision – indicates the high court – is taken “after showing a national problem of systematic, violent, arbitrary and disproportionate intervention by the public force in citizen demonstrations.” The ruling, which comes in response to a tutela action filed by 49 people, also orders the suspension of the use of 12-gauge shotguns by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Esmad) within 48 hours.

With one of these weapons, during the protests in November 2019, Dilan Cruz, a young protester who was shot with ammunition type bean bag. But the ruling not only refers to that case, which was one of the most visible, but to a “series” of systematic episodes recorded in different parts of the country, such as eye injuries and other attacks that left at least 36 protesters with injuries that required hospitalization.

“It is inferred from what is constitutionally scrutinized”, says the sentence, “due to the verification of physical injuries to protesters and due to the conduct of some police officers and in Esmad, that there are shortcomings and inability in the institutions in charge of maintaining internal public order to use, in a rational and moderate way, the arms of the Republic, to the point that they generate a well-founded fear for those who wish to demonstrate peacefully ”.

Another of the decisions of the ruling extends to all executive officers who are ordered to “maintain neutrality when non-violent demonstrations occur, even if they are aimed at questioning the policies of the National Government.” Recently, a report by the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) revealed that during the social mobilizations of 2019 and early 2020 the Presidency invested $ 250,000 in advertising campaigns that aimed to discourage these protests.

The Government must then convene a working group to “restructure the guidelines related to the use of force against peaceful demonstrations” and design a protocol called the Statute of reaction, use and verification of the legitimate force of the State and protection of the right to freedom. peaceful citizen protest. For its part, when the Esmad is required in a public event, the Police will have to deliver to the Ombudsman, the entity in charge of ensuring human rights, a list of the heads of units and commanders in charge. “We are going to study the document in every detail and proceed to make a judicious and calm study on it,” said Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo.

The Court’s decision becomes effective two weeks after the murder and torture of Javier Ordóñez, a lawyer who received shocks from a taser pistol and beatings while in police custody, which triggered two days of protests, riots and clashes between uniformed soldiers and protesters. in which several policemen indiscriminately fired at civilians, in accordance with the complaints documented by the Bogotá Mayor’s Office. Thirteen young people died between September 9 and 11.

After the reaction of civil society and the Attorney General’s Office, the Police suspended fourteen soldiers who fired their weapons during the nights of demonstrations. Both the minister and the government have maintained that the protests were “coordinated” by dissidents from the defunct FARC guerrilla that withdrew from the peace process and infiltrators from the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last guerrilla group active in Colombia.