Bogota – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged international powers to impose sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials who are complicit in abuses by armed groups in the border area with Colombia.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government has already been sanctioned over alleged human rights abuses, lack of democracy and the country’s humanitarian crisis.
But the HRW report draws attention to events in the eastern Colombian province of Arauca and the neighbouring Venezuelan state of Apure, where armed guerrilla groups “use violence to control people’s daily lives”.
The groups include Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN); dissidents from FARC, which signed a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016; and the Venezuelan group Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (FPLN).
The groups impose their own laws, punishing people for alleged crimes with killings and forced labour, according to HRW.
More than 160 people were killed in Arauca in 2019, mostly by armed groups, the report added.
The groups also recruit children, extort money from local people and engage in sexual abuse.
In Venezuela, armed groups “appear to feel much freer to operate … than they do in Colombia,” according to the report.
The U.S., Canada, Latin American countries and the EU should impose “targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on senior Venezuelan officials who … are complicit in abuses by armed groups in Venezuela,” HRW recommended.
Colombia, on its side, needs to strengthen the justice system, ensure access to economic opportunities in Arauca and help FARC dissidents demobilise, the report added.