July 15, 2020 / 6:05 PM / a month ago

Illegal armed groups subject Colombians to 'draconian' virus lockdowns - HRW

BOGOTA, July 15 (Reuters) - Leftist guerrillas and criminal organizations have attacked and killed civilians while enforcing curfews and quarantines they imposed across Colombia, ostensibly to fight COVID-19, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

While the government of President Ivan Duque declared a national quarantine in late March, illegal armed groups have imposed harsher measures in at least 11 of the Andean country’s 32 provinces, where they have taken advantage of authorities’ absence to subdue the civilian population and control movement, HRW said.

“These groups impose draconian rules to control coronavirus, terrorizing civilians with threats, attacks and cold-blooded executions of those who don’t comply,” HRW director Jose Miguel Vivanco said in a virtual press conference.

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, Vivanco said.

He also singled out criminal organizations such as the Clan del Golfo, saying they were looking to control civilians and tighten their hold over illegal mining, drug trafficking and other activities.

According to HRW’s report, nine people have been killed by such groups, who use pamphlets and WhatsApp messages to broadcast rules including lockdowns and restrictions of movement for people, cars and boats in provinces like Cordoba, Cauca, Guaviare, Narino and Putumayo.

In one case, three people were killed by FARC dissidents on April 26, HRW said. The group told other members of the community they were executed for not following quarantine measures the group had imposed.

“The brutal and draconian punishments armed groups impose to halt the spread of COVID-19 expose people in remote and poor communities across Colombia to being attacked or killed if they leave their houses,” Vivanco said.

“The government must step up its efforts to protect these communities, to guarantee their access to food and water, and protect them from the effects of COVID-19,” he added. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Tom Brown)

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