Colombia orders police 'modernization' after protest criticism

Colombia announced Sunday an effort to “modernize” the police, who have been widely criticized internationally for the violent repression of anti-government protests.

President Ivan Duque said he ordered the creation of “a decree that will modernize the structure of the national police, especially to strengthen the policy… on human rights.”

Without specifically yielding to protesters’ demands for police “reform,” Duque promised a “transformation” of the police, which — after decades of armed conflict and violent struggle against drug traffickers in this South American country — answer to the Defense Ministry. 

He said he would create a human rights directorate headed by an outside expert.

Duque’s announcement came on the same day that a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was due to arrive in the country to evaluate the recent social turmoil. 

Demonstrations on April 28 against proposed tax hikes have morphed into widespread anti-government protests of unprecedented scope in this country of 50 million.

At least 61 people, mostly civilians but including two uniformed officers, have died in the protests, according to the authorities, while the NGO Human Rights Watch has cited “credible reports” of 67 deaths.

Government delegates and protest leaders have held talks aimed at defusing the crisis, so far in vain.

Protesters want Duque to denounce excessive force by police and act to address yawning inequities in the country. 

The president, meantime, wants his political opponents to condemn the dozens of roadblocks that have sprung up across the country, which he blames for crippling the economy and leading to the deaths of two babies trapped in ambulances.

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