In Colombia Anti-Government Protests

In Colombia Anti-Government Protests

At least 42 people have been killed in near-daily protests against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque since April 28, the country's human rights ombudsman said.

All but one – a member of the armed forces – were civilians, the ombudsman's office said.

The updated toll made these the bloodiest demonstrations since Colombia signed a peace agreement with the FARC guerilla group in 2016 to end decades of civil war.

Student leader Jennifer Pedraza on Tuesday accused Duque's government of being "complacent about the excessive use of public force," and joined a call for fresh protests on Wednesday.

The protests, initially against a proposed tax reform, soon morphed into a broader demonstration of anti-government sentiment in a country battling ongoing violence and economic hardship made worse by the coronavirus epidemic.

The tax reform bill has since been withdrawn, but the protests have continued despite a forceful response criticized by the international community.

Two protesters who sustained critical injuries during clashes have died in hospital, their families and NGOs announced Tuesday.

On Twitter, Duque expressed sympathy after the death of Lucas Villa, 37, who was shot several times during a peaceful march in Pereira, western Colombia.

The president urged those responsible to face "the full weight of the law."

The other was 20-year-old Alejandro Zapata, who an NGO said was gravely injured by anti-riot police during a demonstration in Bogota.

The police on Monday announced that five officers had been suspended and another 62 were under investigation.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States, have denounced the excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies during demonstrations.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington will "continue to urge the utmost restraint by Colombian police in maintaining public order."

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday extending its mission to monitor Colombia's peace process until the end of October, and to broaden its mandate.

The decision will strengthen the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP), a tribunal that was created in 2017 to try the worst crimes committed by combatants during more than six decades of armed conflict, after the UN expressed concern in February about attacks by pro-government forces against the court.

A diplomatic source said that the mandate had only been extended until October, rather than for a whole year, to avoid the next renewal from occurring just before presidential elections slated for May 2022.

More than a half dozen leaders of the main disbanded guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who have been indicted by the JEP admitted in April to their part in more than 21,000 kidnappings.

The JEP also revealed that 6,400 civilians were executed by the military but reported as having been killed in action during the term of former president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), the founder and leader of the ruling party. 

The tribunal, which cannot try former presidents or military personnel who do not voluntarily submit to its jurisdiction, is expected to begin handing down sentences in the second half of this year.

Those who admit their crimes and compensate their victims can have alternatives to prison sentences handed down. Those who do not accept responsibility can face up to 20 years behind bars. 

In a telephone call Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated to Colombian President Ivan Duque the United Nations' "full support for the peace process," according to his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.(AFP)
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