Amnesty Calls on Biden to End 'Outrageous' US Weapons Sales to Colombia Amid Police Repression

Colombian police officers arrest a demonstrator during a protest against the government in Cali, Colombia on May 10, 2021. (Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images)

Amnesty Calls on Biden to End 'Outrageous' US Weapons Sales to Colombia Amid Police Repression

"The United States government has been an agonizing party to the killing, disappearances, sexual violence, and other torture and horrendous repression of dozens of mostly peaceful demonstrations."

Amnesty International on Thursday urged the Biden administration to immediately halt the sale of U.S. weapons and other law enforcement equipment to Colombia, where protests against the right-wing government's regressive economic policies have been met with violent and deadly attacks by the nation's police forces.

"The United States' role in fueling ceaseless cycles of violence committed against the people of Colombia is outrageous," Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. "The United States government has been an agonizing party to the killing, disappearances, sexual violence, and other torture and horrendous repression of dozens of mostly peaceful demonstrations."

"The United States government has been an agonizing party to the killing, disappearances, sexual violence, and other torture, and horrendous repression of dozens of mostly peaceful demonstrations."
--Philippe Nassif, Amnesty International

In a press release, Amnesty said it verified visual evidence showing that Colombian law enforcement has used Venom high-capacity grenade launchers and Penn Arms hand-held grenade launchers--both made by the U.S. company Combined Systems--to repress nationwide protests, which erupted late last month in response to a tax reform plan that would have hit working-class households while largely shielding the wealthy.

Though Colombian President Ivan Duque withdrew the unpopular tax proposal earlier this month, the street demonstrations have persisted--a reflection of widespread anger over the nation's persistent poverty, unemployment, and deep inequities.

Colombian police forces have killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more in their efforts to crush the demonstrations, which are now in their fourth consecutive week with no end in sight.

"Several instances of police abuse have been captured on video in recent days, including one in which a young protester is seen kicking a police officer on a motorbike," the New York Timesreported earlier this month. "The video shows the officer respond by shooting at the protester as he runs away. The protester was Marcelo Agredo, 17, the ninth grader who went out to march with his brother. He died soon after."

In his statement Thursday, Nassif said the Biden administration must institute a suspension of weapon and equipment transfers to Colombia and keep it in place "until the Colombian security forces fully comply with international law and standards on the use of force, abuses are independently and impartially investigated, and there is full accountability for all human rights violations that have been committed by the Colombian authorities."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken "has the power to stop the fear and terror that Colombian protesters are enduring," said Nassif, "and he must do so immediately."

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