By Oliver Griffin
BOGOTA – Over 100 people in Colombia suffered eye damage at the hands of police during demonstrations that rocked the Andean country earlier this year, advocacy groups said in a report published on Friday.
Protests against a government tax reform enveloped cities throughout Colombia from the end of April and ran for six weeks as demonstrators’ demands expanded to include a basic income and an end to police violence.
From April 28 to July 20, at least 103 people suffered eye injuries caused by Colombia’s police, according to a report from Amnesty International, Colombian rights group Temblores, and the Program of Action for Equality and Social Inclusion of the Universidad de los Andes.
Most injuries were intentional and caused by Colombia’s feared anti-riot cops ESMAD, Amnesty said.
“It’s chilling to see how (ESMAD) officers deliberately fired at the eyes of so many people,” Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director, said in a statement.
Colombia’s national police say officers protect the right to peaceful protest and that cops committing abuses will be prosecuted. So far, 231 investigations have been opened into 69 officers connected to police violence during the protests.
In 28 incidents, victims lost at least one eyeball or the sight in one or both eyes due to police wielding batons or firing less-lethal munitions, according to Temblores data and video verification by Amnesty.
The findings are reminiscent of major protests in Chile https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/human-rights-abuse-accusations-proliferate-in-chile-unrest in 2019 and 2020 where, according to the country’s human rights watchdog, 460 people suffered eye injuries, primarily from police tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
Filmmaker Gareth Sella, 25, lost sight in his left eye during a protest in Bogota in February, he said.
“They fired a burst of (rubber bullets) at my eye,” he said in an interview.
Though not discouraged from further protests, Sella said he has adopted wearing sunglasses to avoid awkward questions and to protect his good eye.
“It’s a traumatic event, because it’s not like an injury that happens playing soccer, but rather the state shooting at you.”