Under its 1991 Constitution, the Republic of Colombia recognises the primacy of “inalienable rights”.Art. 5, 1991 Constitution of Colombia.The right to life is inviolableArt. 11, 1991 Constitution of Colombia.and no one may be subjected to forced disappearance, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.Art. 12, 1991 Constitution of Colombia.The rights to association and to public and peaceful assembly are guaranteed and may only be limited by law.Art. 37, 1991 Constitution of Colombia.
Chapter 7 of the Constitution is dedicated to the “Public Forces” (Fuerza Publica), which comprise the military and the national police.Art. 216, 1991 Constitution of Colombia.Article 218 defines the National Police as a permanent armed body of civil nature whose main goal is to maintain the necessary conditions conducive to the exercise of rights and freedoms and to ensure peaceful coexistence (“convivencia”) to all those living in Colombia. Article 221 (modified by Legislative Act 01/2015) applies the Military Criminal Code to the National Police and determines that the military tribunals have the jurisdiction to judge crimes allegedly committed by officers while on duty.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||No|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||Not party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1948 Charter of the Organization of American States||State Party|
|1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
|Competence of Inter-American Court on Human Rights||Yes|
Police Use of Force
Public security and the handling of public demonstrations are generally the exclusive responsibility of the National Police. Only in extreme situations and for a limited period only may the police request the assistance of the military.Art. 170, 2016 Police Code.According to Article 8 of the 2016 Police Code, police use of force must be necessary, proportionate, and reasonable in the circumstances. Article 10 obligates the National Police to respect and ensure the rights protected under the Constitution of Colombia.
In 2017, a specific regulation was adopted on the use of force, firearms, ammunition, and non-lethal weapons. The regulation, which was adopted by Resolution 2903/2017 of the General Directorate of the National Police, specifically refers to both the 2016 Police Code and the 1990 UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms. The regulation states that the use of firearms is only acceptable in self-defence or defence of others in case of imminent threat of death or serious injuries, or the imminence of a criminal act that may pose a threat to life. A subsequent regulation prohibits the carrying of firearms by police officers engaged in managing demonstrations.
There is no specific independent civilian body created to oversee the actions of the National Police in Colombia. While criminal cases are subject to the jurisdiction of the military tribunals, disciplinary offences are dealt with by the Attorney General's office.
International Criminal Court
The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC is investigating alleged crimes against humanity committed since 1 November 2002 in Colombia. While most of the allegations concern the armed forces, some may concern law enforcement agencies.
Universal Periodic Review
In its submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Colombia in 2018, the compilation by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that the UN Country Team indicated that,
although there had been fewer reports of alleged extrajudicial executions over the past four years, new cases continued to be documented, and that most investigations had focused on low-ranking commissioned and noncommissioned officers. OHCHR called upon the State to ensure the provision of complete information to the Court about investigative advances against high-ranking officers in “false positive” cases.
In addition, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern at reports that members of the police mobile anti-riot squad and the army had used excessive force during public demonstrations, apparently resulting in loss of life and injury.
Yarce and others v. Colombia (2016)
This case concerned the killing of five women human rights defenders during operations by the state, including the police. The Court found that the government had failed in its obligation to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the community leader, Ana Teresa Yarce, and that it had violated the rights to freedom and physical integrity and free association of the other female leaders: Socorro Mosquera, Mery Naranjo, Luz Dary Ospina and Miriam Rua.
Bedoya Lima and others v. Colombia (2021)
This case concerns the alleged abduction, rape, and torture of journalist and human rights defender Jineth Bedoya Lima in 2000 during a visit to “La Modelo” prison in Bogota. Colombia denounced the lack of objectivity of five judges in the oral proceedings before the Inter-American Court and withdrew (although later returned). The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2019 had found that the abduction, rape, and torture of Ms Bedoya Lima had to be considered in a context of general violence against journalists and particularly sexual violence against women during the armed conflicts in Colombia. The Commission held that the State had failed to adopt appropriate and timely measures to protect Ms Bedoya Lima, despite knowing that the journalist was in a situation of risk due to her work. The Inter-American Court issued provisional measures to Colombia ordering the authorities to protect the life and bodily integrity of Ms Bedoya Lima.
The Constitutional Court clarified in a 2006 judgment that only those measures "necessary and efficient to re-establish public order" should be adopted by the police. The use of more extreme measures must always be a last resort: police action must be ruled by the principle of necessity as defined by the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.Corte Constitucional, Judgment, C-179 (2006).
On 22 September 2020, the Supreme Court of Colombia issued an important judgment that condemned the violent repression of anti-government protests in November 2019. The security forces attacked, arrested, and detained protesters, human rights defenders and journalists reporting on the national demonstrations. The Court specifically referred to disproportionate use of both lethal and non-lethal (chemical) weapons by the police.
Among other measures, the Court called for use to be suspended of 12-bore shotguns by the Police Anti-Riot Squads (Escuadrones Móviles Antidisturbios de la Policía Nacional) and for the convening of a workshop to review guidelines on the use of force.