Police attack UN observation mission at site of massacre in Tumaco

Justice For Colombia News | on: Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The United Nations has condemned an incident on Sunday 8 October in which Colombian police attacked a humanitarian mission visiting the site of a recent police massacre of civilians in Tumaco, department of Nariño.

The delegation was formed of representatives of the UN Office for Human Rights, the UN Verification Mission, the Organisation of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS), the provincial government of Nariño and the Diocese of Tumaco. Human rights organisations also had organised a humanitarian mission the same day, including Permanent Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CPDH), the Commission for Justice and Peace, Justapaz, We are Defenders and church groups. Journalists from various national media outlets were also present.

The humanitarian mission was investigating the attack on 5 October in which Colombian police killed at least six unarmed peasant farmers in the village of Alto Mira y Frontera. Amid conflicting media reports, the exact number of dead, disappeared and injured is still unclear.

During the incident, police fired bullets, stun grenades and teargas in the direction of the delegation. Mobile phone footage showed several people ducking for cover. There were no serious injuries reported.

In a statement, the UN Verification Mission said that Colombia's constitution granted civilian jurisdiction over security forces and that the Nariño regional government had informed the police of the delegation's visit.

The statement said that 'the UN Verification Mission, the UN Office for Human Rights and the Organisation of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS) express emphatic disapproval of the aggression to which all organisations and institutions present were victims'. It also said that 'at no point did the mission stop communicating with officials of the Public Force [the police] on the site to explain the purposes of their visit and coordinate access to the site. Nor did members of the mission exercise any type of action to justify such a violent response by the Public Force'.

Four police officers have since been suspended pending an investigation. Colombian vice-president Oscar Naranjo said 'the immense majority of the testimony signals the police as responsible'.

Following the massacre on Thursday 5 October, authorities initially claimed a dissident FARC group had attacked security forces conducting coca eradication programmes in the area. However, local organisations contradicted this version of events and said that police fired indiscriminately upon peasant farmers who were protesting the forced eradication of crops. While official sources say six people died, other accounts have put the figure at eight, and possibly as high as 15.

Tumaco is Colombia's most heavily-cultivated region for coca production. Under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement, crop substitution programmes must provide economically-viable alternatives for communities dependent on coca cultivation.

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