Colombian drug cartels and rebel groups are killing people who fail to abide by lockdown measures in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in a report on Wednesday.
The report found that, in addition to the quarantine imposed by the government, armed groups in several parts of the country have decided to self-enforce rules in a supposed bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
The groups – which include the communist People’s Liberation Army (ELN), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the right-wing paramilitary group Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) – are reportedly using methods such as Whatsapp chats and pamphlets to warn people they are operating in the area.
At least eight civilians have been killed so far as part of their crackdown, while countless more have been threatened or attacked for not following the rules. HRW has consequently called on President Iván Duque to do more to protect people against such vigilantism.
“Draconian ‘punishments’ imposed by armed groups to prevent the spread of Covid-19 mean that people in remote and impoverished communities across Colombia risk being attacked and even killed if they leave their homes,” said HRW’s America’s director, José Miguel Vivanco.
“The government should urgently ramp up its efforts to protect these communities, ensuring they have adequate food and water, and protect their health from the effects of Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus],” he continued.
Duque declared a state of emergency in March, and Colombia has been in a lockdown of varying severity ever since. Those found violating the measures are typically subject to a 950,000 peso ($250) fine, yet there remains widespread disobedience as many living in poverty are forced to go out to work regardless. Quarantine is scheduled to end August 1, and may well be extended again.
The ongoing operation of terrorist groups nationwide underscores the failure of President Juan Manuel Santos’s peace deal with the FARC to weaken the group. Santos forced through the country’s Congress in 2016 despite its rejection in a nationwide referendum and won the Nobel Peace Prize for it.
Under the agreement, senior rebel leaders were given amnesty or light prison sentences in return for the group laying down its arms. Yet since the deal was approved, other Marxist groups such as the National Liberation Army have filled the void, carrying out multiple terrorist attacks across the country and continuing to earn their money in the cocaine trade. Senior FARC leaders have also disappeared into the Colombian jungle, calling for more violence.
Like many parts of South America, Colombia is now approaching the peak of the pandemic. As of Thursday, medical authorities have confirmed over 165,000 cases of the virus and 5,814 deaths, with the number of cases rising by an average of 5,000 every day. That places it well behind some of its neighbors including Mexico, Peru, and Chile, all of whom have recorded over 300,000 cases, while Brazil is now rapidly approaching two million.