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‘Egregious’ police abuse against Colombian protesters: Report | Police News



Bogotá, Colombia — Colombian police have committed “egregious” abuses against “mostly peaceful demonstrators” during protests that began in late April against the tax reform but have expanded to include a host of social inequities, a new report has said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Colombia’s government to “take urgent measures to protect human rights, initiate a comprehensive police reform effort” to teach officers to respect protesters and bring to justice those responsible for abuses.

The HRW report on Wednesday came as Colombia is in its sixth week of demonstrations which have spread across the country, sometimes turning violent. Dozens of protesters have been killed or injured, supposedly at the hands of police.

Colombia’s right-wing President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday he would ask Congress to approve changes to policing – one of the main demands of protesters. The announcement came after talks between the government and an umbrella protester group, the National Strike Committee, stalled.

The HRW report alleges members of the Colombian National Police have responded to protests by “repeatedly and arbitrarily dispersing peaceful demonstrations and using excessive, often brutal, force, including live ammunition”.

The groups said it conducted more than 150 interviews with victims, their relatives and lawyers, witnesses, officials of the human rights Ombudsperson’s Office, and human rights defenders, in 25 cities across Colombia.

The government did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for a response to the report.

Human rights groups and protest organisers dispute the number of deaths claimed by the government.

The attorney general’s office puts the number of deaths in direct relation to protests at 21. HRW figures say they have been able to confirm 34, but some local human rights groups have even higher figures. Two police officers are included among those killed.

Colombia’s police force reports directly to the Ministry of Defense which experts say has caused policing to become tangled with the army and is the only country in Latin America to do so. A special squadron of riot police, known as ESMAD, are most under scrutiny.

“These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue officers, but rather the result of systemic shortcomings of the Colombian police,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW in a press release on Wednesday.

“Comprehensive reform that clearly separates the police from the military and ensures adequate oversight and accountability is needed to ensure that these violations don’t occur again,” Vivanco said.

HRW also acknowledged that some protesters “committed grave acts of violence … including burning police stations and attacking police officers, two of whom died”.

Protests began on April 28 and were sparked by a tax reform proposal, which many working and middle-class people did not agree with. The demonstrations, supported by various sectors of Colombian society continued even after the reform was withdrawn and a series of other demands have emerged, including calls for the anti-riot police, known as ESMAD, to be disbanded and more equity in education and healthcare.

A history of reform promises

The Colombian government has come under fire internationally for its heavy-handed policing of protests.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States, has been in Colombia to research possible rights abuses during protests. Its members have spoken to government officials, protest leaders, lawmakers and judges during a three-day visit that concludes on Wednesday. They are expected to release a report next week.

Some of the proposed policy changes the government has suggested include renaming the defence ministry to Ministry of National Defense and Citizen Security as well as new police uniforms which will include body cameras to record police interactions with civilians.

Colombia has a history of announcing big reforms when under scrutiny by the international community and then not following through, Gimena Sanchez, Andes director for the Washington Office on Latin America, told Al Jazeera.

“The reforms should be made with civil society and it’s not clear that they will lead to the dismantlement of ESMAD, which is what’s needed,” she said.

Aside from the issues related to police violence, demonstrations continue over other issues like economic inequality, unemployment, and poor public services.

Protests have gotten smaller over the past two weeks, but have been continuous.

Some of the more extreme demonstrators have allegedly attacked public infrastructure, businesses and transport links, moves condemned by the government and those who support the protests.

On Wednesday morning in Bogota, a group of Indigenous Misak people tried to tear down a statue of Christopher Colombus. ESMAD were sent to stop the incident. Nationwide protests were set to continue on Wednesday.

A missed opportunity

Duque’s proposed police reforms are a missed opportunity to make meaningful change, said Angelika Rettberg, a political science professor at Bogota’s Los Andes university.

“Here the government unilaterally offers a reform, and since we are in the midst of a confrontation it’s really likely that people on the side of the strike will not support this reform, or will think it’s insufficient,” she told Al Jazeera.

“In a way, it’s a missed opportunity for building political consensus on a topic that really requires including numerous voices which is related to how the police shall provide security and how it can protect human rights, while at the same time protecting people from terrorism and brutal actions.”

Rettberg believes protests will continue and that both sides – the right-wing government and the majority left-wing demonstrators – will try to use the ongoing protests for their political gain, as each side will blame the other for any failure.

“Unfortunately, I see this strike going on longer and longer and it has a lot to do with feet dragging on both sides seeking to both weaken the other side and also extract the most possible electoral advantage in light of presidential elections next year,” she said, adding that the CIDH needs to be neutral and take into consideration the views on both sides to help end violence and disarm the strike.

The fact that the police reform request must go through Congress is something political analyst, Sergio Guzman, said is a stalling point. The next legislative session is in July.

“The government’s announcement to make substantial reforms to the police is a welcome one,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Substantial changes to the norms of the police or to the independence of the control entities that look after the police are going to depend very much on Congress … and Congress has demonstrated to be a place where good intentions go to die.”

Guzman mentioned that other government requests have been rejected by Congress, which, he says, tends to bury any attempt at reform.

“Despite concessions being made by the government on account of the protests, we still don’t know if these movements will become effective until after Congress has managed to address them,” he said. “This is why I don’t think the protests are going to calm down because the government has very little credibility with protesters by way of keeping its word.”

“I think it is going to be problematic for the government because they want the protests to basically dissolve without a negotiation taking place.”

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Prisons Speaks out on Jamil Mukulu’s Health Condition




The Uganda Prisons Service has described as “total fabrication,” claims that Jamil Mukulu, the former leader of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), is on the verge of death battling Covid-19 in Luzira Prison.

Frank Baine, the Uganda Prisons Service spokesperson, said Mukulu is suffering from “pneumonia and diabetes” but not Covid-19 and is admitted to the prisons health facility.

He, however, said the former ADF rebel leader is out of danger.

“He is sick like any other person and currently receiving treatment at Murchison Bay Hospital. It is also not true that he contracted Covid-19,” Baine said in an interview on Sunday.

This comes after the family of Mukulu, accused  Luzira Maximum Prison authorities of blocking them from seeing her son.

Nakiyemba Lutakome, the mother of Mukulu who lives in Kayunga District, said: “Recently, I received information from a lady who claimed she was from Luzira Prison that my son died. I have tried to get the truth in vain.”

She added: “If my son is dead, let prison authorities dump his body anywhere in this village, I am sure people will recognize his body and bring it here for burial.”

Mr Baine said they blocked the family as part of the prisons resolutions to control the spread of Covid-19.

Mukulu alongside 37 others is facing charges of murder, aggravated robbery, aiding and abetting terrorism and crimes against humanity at the International Crimes Division of the High Court.

Mukulu is described as the leader of ADF and Salaf Muslim community in Uganda who used to command his group with others still at large to carry out raids through which they  committed a number of crimes.

The group is further said to have robbed guns, ammunitions, a gold weighing machine, millions of money and attempting to take away the lives of many people.

Prosecution contends that Mukulu and the group committed these offenses in various districts such as Kampala, Wakiso, Mayuge, Budaka and Mbale among others and that the indiscriminate attacks instilled fear in the public to influence it for either   a social, political, economic or religious aim.

The post Prisons Speaks out on Jamil Mukulu’s Health Condition first appeared on ChimpReports.

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Armenia: Nikol Pashinyan claims victory in snap polls | Elections News




Nikol Pashinyan, the acting prime minister of Armenia, has claimed victory in a snap parliamentary election he had called in an effort to defuse a political crisis following a disastrous war with Azerbaijan.

With 75 percent of results declared, Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party had 55.61 percent of the vote on Monday. The electoral alliance of his top rival, former President Robert Kocharyan, had 20 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Voter turnout was about 50 percent, with some 2.6 million people eligible to vote.

“The people of Armenia have given our Civil Contract party a mandate to lead the country and personally me to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinyan said early on Monday.

“We already know that we won a convincing victory in the elections and we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added.

Kocharyan’s bloc, however, questioned the credibility of the preliminary results and said it would not recognise Pashinyan’s quick claim to victory, which came when just 30 percent of precincts had been counted.

“Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organised and planned falsifications serve as a serious reason for lack of trust,” the bloc said in a statement, adding it would not “recognise” the results until the “violations” were studied.

Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021 [Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via Reuters]

Earlier on Sunday evening, the general prosecutor’s office said it had received 319 reports of violations. It said it had opened six criminal probes, all of which concerned bribes during campaigning.

The election is being monitored by experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which recently assessed the voting as largely fair and free. They will deliver an overall verdict on Monday.

Opinion polls prior to the election had put the two parties neck and neck. And while a record four electoral blocs and 21 parties ran for election, only a handful are expected to win seats in parliament.

Six-day war

Pashinyan had called the snap poll to try to end a political crisis that erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. More than 6,500 people were killed in the war, according to the latest official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan has since been under pressure, with regular street protests demanding he step down over the terms of the peace agreement that ended the conflict. Under the deal, which was brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s. Pashinyan himself described the agreement as a disaster, but said he had been compelled to sign it in order to prevent greater human and territorial losses.

From Moscow’s perspective, Pashinyan is a guarantor that the agreement will remain in place. This includes the stationing of some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Arsen Kharatyan, a former adviser to Pashinyan, told Al Jazeera the results gave the acting prime minister a chance to form a government “so that the internal political turmoil stops”.

“Now, how are you going to handle the situation that Armenia is in? In the larger picture, the security architecture of the region has not changed much since the war. Russia is still going to be a major player in all of this. So, whoever comes in to power is going to have to deal with Moscow quite directly,” Kharatyan said, adding that Sunday’s vote also showed none of the parties who campaigned on a “pro-Western agenda got enough votes”.

Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is a close ally of Moscow, although Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018, has had cooler relations with the Kremlin.

Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict, will also be watching the election closely.

Conflicting opinions

On the streets of Yerevan on Sunday, Armenians voiced conflicting opinions about Pashinyan.

Voter Anahit Sargsyan said the prime minister, who spearheaded peaceful protests against corrupt elites in 2018, deserved another chance.

She said she feared the return of the old guard whom she accused of plundering the country.

“I voted against a return to the old ways,” said the 63-year-old former teacher.

An Armenian woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election – called after last year’s defeat in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh – in Yerevan, Armenia, Sunday, June 20, 2021 [Sergei Grits/AP Photo]

Another voter, Vardan Hovhannisyan, said he had cast his ballot for Kocharyan, who calls Russian leader Vladimir Putin his friend.

“I voted for secure borders, solidarity in society, the return of our war prisoners, the wellbeing of the wounded and a strong army,” said the 41-year-old musician.

Kocharyan, who hails from Karabakh, has accused Armenia’s leadership of inaction during last year’s war and pledged to start negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders if he came to power.

Kocharyan was president of Armenia from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 after a disputed election.

At least 10 people were killed in the clashes that followed between police and protesters.

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News




Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.

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