UN condemns 'excessive' force against Colombia protesters

The UN rights office condemned Tuesday an "excessive use of force" by security officers in Colombia, after numerous deaths during days of protest against a proposed tax reform.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced "profound shock" at an incident overnight in the city of Cali in which police are alleged to have "opened fire" on demonstrators, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people.

It called for calm ahead of another mass protest planned for Wednesday, saying security forces should only use firearms as a last resort in the face of an imminent threat of death or serious injury.

Spokeswoman Marta Hurtado told reporters in Geneva the situation remained volatile.

"What we can say clearly is that we have received reports, and we have witnesses, (of) excessive use of force by security officers, shooting, live ammunition being used, beatings of demonstrators and as well detentions," she said.

Protesters in Colombia have called a new mass rally after 19 people died and more than 800 were wounded, according to official figures, in clashes during five days of demonstrations. 

Colombia's human rights ombudsman Carlos Camargo said an official of his office, a representative of the attorney general's office charged with probing official wrongdoing, and three human rights activists were attacked by public forces while assisting detainees in Cali on Monday night.

Call for calm

The five "were threatened by national police officers who repeatedly fired shots into the air and floor, threw stun grenades, subjected them to verbal abuse and demanded that they leave," he said.

Separately, the European Union also condemned the deaths reported in recent days -- 18 civilians and a police officer.

"It is really a priority to stop the escalation of this violence and to avoid any disproportionate use of force by security forces," said the bloc's spokesman, Peter Stano. 

"We trust the action of Colombian institutions to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for any abuses, violations of human rights and freedoms."

The Colombian government says the clashes have left 846 people injured, including 306 civilians.

The UN rights office said that "given the extremely tense situation, with soldiers as well as police officers deployed to police the protest, we call for calm."

"We remind the state authorities of their responsibility to protect human rights, including the right to life and security of person, and to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly," Hurtado said. 

The UN was trying to verify the casualty toll from Monday's incident in Cali. 

Topics: Colombia , United Nations , European Union , Marta Hurtado , Protest
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