(New York) – Amnesty International said today that a university student’s death by shooting in the capital Santo Domingo on Thursday highlights the need for a comprehensive policing reform by the Dominican Republic’s National Police, especially regarding how it responds to public protests.
Willy Florián Ramírez, a 21-year-old medical student, died after being shot on Thursday during clashes between police and student protesters demonstrating against a highly disputed tax reform that had led to demonstrations across the country in previous days.
According to eyewitnesses, police shot Florián while he was walking out of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) campus. Heavily armed police officers fired live rounds towards a group of protesters making their way from the campus to join another demonstration at the Congress. Clashes then erupted between students and the police.
On Thursday night the National Police chief announced the arrest of 19 police officials – including a lieutenant colonel in charge of the operation – as part of an investigation into the incident.
“This tragic incident confirms a vital need for the kind of comprehensive police reform in the Dominican Republic that Amnesty International and local human rights organizations have long been advocating,” said Javier Zúñiga, special adviser to Amnesty International.
“Amnesty International welcomes that the President of the Republic requested a full and timely investigation into Willy Florián’s killing. Florián’s tragic death should lead to urgent measures to prevent more unlawful killings in the future.
“While the police have a duty to maintain public order during protests, excessive force must never be used, and lethal arms should be used as the very last resort, only in self-defense or the defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
Eyewitnesses said that after Florián was shot, police fired tear gas at people who tried to come to his aid.
Police officials claim that a video from the demonstration shows one of the masked protesters firing a gun at police, who responded by firing shots in the air and using tear gas to disperse the protesters. Two police officers, as well as at least three other students and a bus ticket collector, were also reportedly injured in the clashes.
According to a National Police statement, a bullet extracted from Florián’s corpse has been sent for forensic analysis, to compare it with those used by the police agents who responded to the protests near the UASD.
Following the violence, the university has suspended all classes until next Monday, November 12.
Amnesty International believes Florián’s killing should give Dominican authorities pause to reflect on how the country’s police have been allowed to violate human rights continually with impunity. The organization has previously documented soaring levels of abuse by police in the Dominican Republic, including torture and unlawful killings.
An October 2011 report cited myriad cases of individuals killed by police – a tenth of all murders in the country the previous year were the result of police abuse.
Too many people are killed or injured by police during demonstrations. In a separate protest on Thursday in the city of Barahona, members of the National Police reportedly shot and seriously injured a female professor. An investigation is also currently underway into the alleged police role in the deaths of four people during protests in Salcedo, near the northern city of Santiago, in June 2012.
“When the Dominican Congress debates the new Organic Law of the National Police in the coming weeks, they must integrate principles and rules ensuring that the police really protect human rights,” said Zúñiga.
An Amnesty International delegation will travel to the Dominican Republic at the end of the month.
“We look forward to discussing with the President and other relevant authorities ways to implement a comprehensive reform to transform the police into an institution that is respectful of human rights and able to provide the effective protection that people in the Dominican Republic desperately need,” said Zúñiga.
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Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.