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UN rights chief urges probe into deaths as Colombia protests rage

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A woman mourns the death of demonstrators during protests against Colombian President Ivan Duque's government, in Cali, Colombia, on May 29, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has voiced alarm over the ongoing violence in Colombia amid anti-government protests in the South American country, calling for an independent investigation into deadly clashes.

The UN rights chief made the remarks on Sunday, after over a dozen civilians were killed in the Colombian city of Cali, the epicenter of demonstrations across the country, stressing the need to resume dialog.

"It is essential that all those who are reportedly involved in causing injury or death, including state officials, are subject to prompt, effective, independent, impartial and transparent investigations and that those responsible are held accountable," Bachelet said.

This came after her office cited reports that 14 people had been killed in Cali since Friday. It said a further 98 had been wounded, including 54 by firearms.

The Colombian army tightened its control over Cali on Saturday, following deadly clashes in the country’s third-largest city.

The UN rights office further pointed to reports of private individuals firing shots at demonstrators in the presence of police officers in parts of the city.

Bachelet expressed concern over the events, calling for an end to all forms of violence.

She also urged all sides to continue talking to each other, and to ensure respect for the life and dignity of all people, stressing that only dialog could resolve the demands of different groups on both sides.

"I welcome the commitment voiced by several actors, in Cali and at the national level, to find a negotiated and peaceful solution to the social unrest through talks," she said.

Bachelet’s office also said it had received information of at least 30 people arrested in Cali since Friday, and highlighted concerns about the whereabouts of some of them.

"The fair trial and due process rights of those detained need to be ensured," the UN rights chief said.

She also stressed the need to take all necessary measures in line with international human rights standards to prevent disappearances.

Colombia is in the second month of protests against the government of President Ivan Duque.

According to officials, the protests left at least 59 people dead and more than 2,300 civilians and uniformed personnel injured.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has cited "credible reports" of at least 63 deaths nationwide, calling the situation in Cali "very serious."

The protests in Colombia first broke out on April 28 after a now-canceled tax reform proposal by the government of the Colombian president drew widespread anger and triggered violent rallies across the South American country.

The United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have already condemned the "excessive use of force" during the anti-government protests in Colombia, calling for an end to the escalating violence.

Duque has promised to open "spaces for dialog" with the various protesting sectors, although he has defended the security forces, calling them the main victims of the violence.

Even though the tax proposal bill was withdrawn, people have been continuing the anti-government protests in different Colombian cities by blocking roads and junctions.

Colombia's economy shrank by 6.8 percent in 2020 — its worst performance in half a century — due to coronavirus restrictions, with unemployment reaching 16.8 percent in March and 42.5 percent of the population living in poverty.

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