By Oliver Griffin
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Brutal abuses by Colombia's police during recent anti-government protests are not isolated incidents but part of extensive failings by state security forces, advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Wednesday.
Nationwide demonstrations against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque, which began in late April, have been directly connected with at least 21 deaths, according to government figures.
Local rights groups say dozens more have been killed by security forces and HRW says it has confirmed 34 deaths are connected to demonstrations, including 20 people likely killed by police.
HRW said it has also documented beatings, sexual abuse and arbitrary detention of protesters and bystanders by security forces.
"These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue officers, but rather the result of systemic shortcomings of the Colombian police," Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Credible evidence suggests police killed 16 protesters or bystanders with live ammunition, the report found. In 15 of these cases, the killings may have been intentional.
At least one other victim died after being beaten by police, while three others were killed following "inappropriate or excessive" use of teargas or flash-bang cartridges, it added.
Duque has repeatedly insisted that most Colombian police respect the human rights of civilians, and he has said that any cops who act illegally will be punished. On Sunday, he announced his government will ask Congress to approve more training and increased oversight of police.
Representatives from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) arrived in the country over the weekend for a three-day visit to gather information about possible rights abuses during the protests. They are expected to release a report next week.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Aurora Ellis)