Colombian cartels 'killing people who don't obey coronavirus lockdown rules'

David Child
·3-min read
Colombian soldiers patrol the streets in Usme neighborhood, south Bogota, on July 15, 2020: AFP via Getty Images
Colombian soldiers patrol the streets in Usme neighborhood, south Bogota, on July 15, 2020: AFP via Getty Images

Drug cartels and rebel groups operating in Colombia have begun imposing their own stringent coronavirus lockdowns, and are killing civilians who do not comply with the rules, according to a new report.

The report, published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday, said at least eight civilians have been murdered by the armed groups since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis for ignoring the measures.

According to HRW's findings, restrictions have been imposed in at least 11 of Colombia’s 32 states - Arauca, Bolívar, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Córdoba, Guaviare, Huila, Nariño, Norte de Santander, and Putumayo.

In at least five, the groups used violence to enforce compliance, the report said, and in at least another four threatened violence.

José Miguel Vivanco, HRW's Americas director, said the developments reflected officials' failure to exercise control in vast swathes of the country, which brought a five-decade-long civil war to an end with an increasingly shaky 2016 peace accord.

"In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

“This abusive social control reflects the government’s long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations.”

Left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and dissident former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who rejected a 2016 peace deal, were among those responsible, Mr Vivanco said.

Citing examples of how such armed groups' rules have been enforced, HRW's report highlighted the impoverished port city of Tumaco, where local residents are banned by gangs from fishing, limiting their ability to earn money and food.

A 5pm curfew - far stricter than the measures imposed by the government - has also been rolled out and is forcing street vendors in the Pacific Coast city inside.

Elsewhere in the country, violent gangs are stopping people from leaving their homes at all, even when sick, according to humanitarian workers cited in the report.

In two provinces, Cauca and Guaviare, armed groups have torched the motorcycles of those of those who allegedly ignored their lockdown measures.

According to HRW, the armed groups have communicated their rules predominantly through pamphlets and WhatsApp messages.

Their various restrictions encompass a wide range of measures that includes curfews; lockdowns; movement restrictions for people, cars, and boats; limits on opening days and hours for shops; as well as banning access to communities for foreigners and people from other communities.

“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,” Mr Vivanco said.

“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.”

The government headed by President Ivan Duque, for its part, has imposed lockdowns both nationwide and locally in a bid to curtail the spread of Covid-19.

Since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the country on March 6, Colombia's medical authorities have recorded nearly 160,000 infections and more than 5,000 associated deaths.

Read more

Vaccine 'could give double protection' as job loss fears rise- LIVE