Human Rights Watch report finds rape, murder and kidnappings on both sides of border, where people are unable to move freely
Guerrilla groups have supplanted state rule on both sides of the lawless border between Venezuela and Colombia, where they impose their own brutal rules on civilians, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In Colombias eastern Arauca province and the neighbouring Apure state in Venezuela, civilians are unable to move freely, forced to obey a strict curfew and taxed on virtually all economic activity. HRW documented abuses including murder, kidnappings, disappearances, child recruitment and rape.
Armed groups in Arauca and Apure also punish residents with forced labor, requiring them to work for free, sometimes for months, farming, cleaning roads, or cooking in the armed groups camps, which are often in Venezuela, says the report, released on Wednesday.
The groups act with impunity thanks to limited state authorities on both sides of the porous border where they impose their own rules. Two of the groups have even handed out a manual for residents of the region.
Those that do not follow the groups strict rules pay the ultimate price. The bodies of 16 civilians were found in Arauca last year, with scraps of paper on them announcing a justification for the killing, the report found. The texts accused the murdered victims of being informants, rapists, drug dealers, or thieves, for example.
Security on the Colombian side of the border was supposed to improve following a historic peace deal in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which had fought against the government for five decades.
While that accord formally ended a conflict that killed over 260,000 and forced 7 million from their homes, little has changed on the ground in former Farc strongholds such as the Arauca province.
HRWs report claims that one of the two armed groups present there is a splinter group of the Farcs 10th Front, which still uses the defunct rebel armys insignia.
Another Colombian leftist group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) works in alliance with the dissidents. The Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (FPLN), a Venezuelan guerrilla group that supports its countrys leftist government, is also present.