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La Senadora Laura Fortich propone que dueños y responsables de EPS deban responder con su patrimonio, cuando la entidad quiebre. La senadora miembro del Partido Liberal Laura Fortich presentó un proyecto que pretende mejorar la situación financiera de las IPS. Uno de los ejes centrales del proyecto de Fortich es que las liquidaciones de las […]
La entrada Colombia – Dueños y responsables de EPS podrían responder con su partimonio aparece primero en Diario Jurídico.
Armed groups use brutal violence to control peoples’ daily lives in the eastern Colombian province of Arauca and the neighboring Venezuelan state of Apure.
In the eastern Colombian province of Arauca and the neighboring Venezuelan state of Apure, non-state armed groups use violence to control peoples’ daily lives. They impose their own rules, and to enforce compliance they threaten civilians on both sides of the border, subjecting those who do not obey to punishments ranging from fines to forced labor to killings. Residents live in fear.
Human Rights Watch visited Arauca in August 2019, documenting a range of abuses on both sides of the border. We interviewed 105 people, including community leaders, victims of abuses and their relatives, humanitarian actors, human rights officials, judicial officials, and journalists. We sent information requests to Colombian and Venezuelan authorities, and consulted an array of sources and documents.
We found that armed groups on both sides of the border exercise control through threats, kidnappings, forced labor, child recruitment, and murder. In Arauca, armed groups have also planted landmines and perpetrated sexual violence, among other abuses.
Two armed groups impose social control over the residents of Arauca: the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN), a guerrilla group formed in the 1960s, and the “Martín Villa 10th Front” dissident group, which emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP or FARC) after the 2016 peace accord, and sometimes identifies itself as FARC-EP.
These two groups also operate in Venezuela’s Apure state, where the Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (Fuerzas Patrióticas de Liberación Nacional, FPLN) operate as well. This group, whose origins date back to the 1990s, reportedly has a close relationship with Venezuelan authorities in Apure.
The armed groups in both countries have established and brutally enforce on civilians a wide range of rules normally associated with criminal laws enacted and enforced by governments. Members of armed groups do not hold themselves to the same standards. These include curfews; prohibitions on rape, theft, and murder; and regulations governing everyday activities such as fishing, debt payment, and closing times for bars. In some areas, the groups forbid wearing helmets while riding motorcycles, so that fighters can see travelers’ faces. The groups extort money from residents who carry out virtually any type of economic activity.
Some of the armed groups’ rules are included in a 2013 manual of “Unified Rules of Conduct and Coexistence,” which the FARC and ELN created before the 2016 peace accord. Fighters communicate other rules through megaphones or signs posted along roads.
As part of their strategy to control the social, political, and economic life of Arauca, the groups have in recent years increasingly committed unlawful killings, including against human rights defenders and community leaders. In 2015, when the FARC declared a ceasefire to advance peace talks, the government recorded 96 homicides in Arauca. Since then, homicides have gone up, reaching 161 between January and late-November 2019. Armed groups are responsible for the majority of these homicides, according to Colombia’s Institute of Forensic Science and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office.
Human Rights Watch has also received credible allegations of killings by armed groups in Apure, but Venezuelan authorities have not released reliable, comprehensive statistics on killings there.
In 2019, at least 16 bodies of civilians found in Arauca had scrawled scraps of paper on them announcing the supposed “justification” for the killing. The texts accused the murdered victims of being “informants,” “rapists,” “drug dealers,” or “thieves,” for example. Often, the papers were signed “FARC-EP,” suggesting that the Martín Villa 10th Front FARC dissident group claimed responsibility. Residents reported similar killings in 2018.
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. Human Rights Watch documented at least two cases of forced labor and received credible allegations of three additional cases. Humanitarian actors, human rights officials, residents, and victims told Human Rights Watch that coerced labor is a common punishment for even minor infractions.
The ELN and FARC dissident group also recruit Colombian and Venezuelan children in both Arauca and Apure, according to human rights officials, humanitarian actors, and residents. Armed groups often offer payment, motorcycles, and guns to children to lure them to join. Girls who escaped from armed groups’ ranks have reported members of the groups committing sexual violence against them, including rape and forced abortion.
Some 44,000 Venezuelans live in Arauca, most having arrived since 2015, fleeing the devastating humanitarian, political, and economic crisis in their home country. Venezuelans in Arauca often live in precarious economic conditions, sleeping on the street or forming makeshift settlements, struggling to earn money, and lacking access to public services such as comprehensive health care. Thousands have also set out on foot from the border region, hoping to reach destinations such as Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. They are often unaware of the dangers along the way, including predation by armed groups.
Venezuelans, many of whom arrive in Arauca from areas without armed groups and who are ignorant of the armed groups’ “rules,” have numbered among the murder victims. Between January and November 2019, the Colombian National Police recorded 30 Venezuelans killed in Arauca. Community leaders, humanitarian workers, and human rights officials told Human Rights Watch that armed groups murdered many of them for violating the “rules.”
Venezuelans have also suffered abuses that are not directly associated with armed groups. Many women are sexually exploited and coerced to sell sex, and often face additional violence. Humanitarian actors have reported cases of human trafficking. Xenophobia in Arauca is notably prevalent and has led to cases of violence against Venezuelans, who are often blamed by local residents for crimes committed there.
Colombian authorities have tried to wrest power from armed groups in Arauca, principally by deploying the military. Several of the military units on duty in Arauca, though, are dedicated to protecting oil infrastructure, which armed groups often attack. In parts of the province, protection of residents is almost entirely lacking.
Security forces are especially ineffective in the countryside. Police presence is often limited to certain urban areas while much of the army presence in rural areas is focused on oil infrastructure. As one police official told Human Rights Watch, in the remaining areas the guerrillas “are the police.”
Protection for human rights defenders, community leaders, and others particularly at risk of attack by armed groups has been limited. Colombia’s National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) has only one official in Arauca, who is in charge of assigning protection schemes for people at risk. This generates delays and makes it hard to carry out thorough and timely risk assessments. The UNP in Arauca does not itself have protection, or even a car, so is rarely able to visit rural areas.
Security forces in Arauca have also been involved in serious abuses. In one incident in March 2018, soldiers opened fire on four civilians who had gone hunting, killing one of them.
Armed groups appear to feel much freer to operate in Venezuela than they do in Colombia. Groups have at times taken victims kidnapped in Arauca to camps and other facilities they maintain in Venezuela. Rather than combatting them, Venezuelan security forces, as well as local authorities, have colluded with them in at least some cases, according to multiple sources we interviewed, including Apure residents, community leaders, journalists, and humanitarian actors.
Impunity for abuses remains the norm. In Arauca, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office has secured convictions for only eight killings committed since 2017, out of a total of more than 400 now under investigation. None of the eight convictions was of a member of an armed group. Since 2017, the office has not charged, let alone convicted, any member of an armed group for rape, threats, extortion, child recruitment, forced displacement, or the criminal offense of “forcible disappearance,” which under Colombian law covers abductions and involuntary disappearances carried out by armed groups.
The Venezuelan government did not respond to an information request from Human Rights Watch regarding the status of investigations into alleged abuses in Apure. The lack of judicial independence in Venezuela, coupled with widespread fear of reporting crimes, strongly suggests there is little, if any, accountability for crimes committed by armed groups in Apure. Given our sources’ testimony that local authorities and security forces in Apure tolerate and often collude with armed groups, there is no reason to believe that serious investigations into abuses by armed groups have been conducted or will be in the near future.
The implementation of two policies announced in recent years by the Colombian government could decisively influence the human rights situation in Arauca.
In four municipalities of Arauca, the national government has committed to implementing a “Territorial Development Program” (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDET), an initiative created by the peace agreement with the FARC.
As part of the PDET, residents of the four Arauca municipalities have already participated in designing projects to increase accountability, improve protection for community activists, and address the poverty and lack of educational opportunities that have, for years, made it easier for armed groups to thrive. Implementation of the projects in Arauca could help undermine armed groups’ power and prevent human rights abuses.
On the enforcement side, the government announced in August 2019 a “Strategic Zone of Comprehensive Intervention” (Zona Estratégica de Intervención Integral) for Arauca, which is currently being designed. In such zones, authorities commit to deploying the military alongside police to dismantle armed groups and improve security. Simultaneously, the government aims, in safer parts of these areas, to improve access to public services and strengthen civilian, including judicial, institutions.
Our research suggests that the situation in Arauca is unlikely to improve if the Colombian government continues to focus its strategy on deploying the military without simultaneously strengthening the justice system, improving protection for the population, and taking steps to ensure adequate access to economic and educational opportunities and public services. Conversely, thorough implementation of PDET provisions—especially those related to strengthening the judiciary, protecting community activists, and providing economic and educational opportunities—could help undermine armed groups’ power and prevent further human rights abuses in Arauca.
Increased international pressure on the government of Nicolás Maduro remains key to preventing abuses and ensuring accountability in Venezuela. A United Nations fact-finding mission created in September to investigate human rights violations in Venezuela should scrutinize abuses committed by armed groups in Venezuela with the tolerance or connivance of security forces. Relying on findings by the UN fact-finding mission and other credible sources, international organizations and foreign governments—in the Americas and Europe—should impose targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, on senior Venezuelan officials who have been complicit in abuses by armed groups.
To the Administration of President Iván Duque of Colombia:
To prevent abuses, protect people at risk, and support accountability:
To protect the rights of Venezuelans fleeing from the crisis in their country:
To the Colombian Attorney General’s Office:
To UN Agencies:
To the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela:
To the US, Canadian, and Latin American Governments and the European Union:
In researching this report Human Rights Watch carried out interviews with more than 105 people. Interviewees included residents of Arauca and Apure, Venezuelan refugees, Colombians who had returned to their country from Venezuela (often called “returnees” in Colombia), human rights officials, judicial officials, human rights activists, victims of abuse and their relatives, members of humanitarian organizations, and Colombian government officials. Members of armed groups were not interviewed for security reasons.
We conducted most of the interviews during a visit in August 2019 to five of the seven municipalities of Arauca: Arauca City, Arauquita, Saravena, Fortul, and Tame. Some additional interviews for the report were conducted by telephone and in Bogotá. All interviews were in Spanish.
The report also draws on a series of official statistics and documents from the Colombian government, publications by international and national humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations, and news articles. We sent information requests to Colombia’s Ministry of Defense, Attorney General’s Office and Victims’ Unit, as well as to Venezuelan authorities. The responses we received are reflected in the report. Venezuelan authorities did not respond.
This report documents abuses committed both in Colombia and Venezuela. Documenting cases in Venezuela presented difficulties. First, Human Rights Watch conducts limited research inside Venezuela due to security concerns. In 2008, a Human Rights Watch team was detained and expelled from the country, with authorities publicly announcing that our presence would not be “tolerated” there. The security situation for our researchers, and anyone else who carries out human rights work in the country, has only worsened since then. Secondly, Venezuelan authorities do not release reliable statistics or information about crimes in the country and, given the lack of judicial independence in the country, there are no reliable statistics from the justice system on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions either. Finally, only a few humanitarian organizations work on issues linked to armed groups in Venezuela.
Most of the interviewees feared for their security and only spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition that we withhold their names and other identifying information. Details about their cases or the individuals involved, including the location of the interviews, were also withheld when requested or when Human Rights Watch believed that publishing the information would put someone at risk. In footnotes, we may use the same language to refer to different interviewees to preserve their security.
Interviews with victims, their relatives, or witnesses were conducted in confidential settings or through secure means of communication. We informed all participants of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and how the information would be used. Each participant orally consented to be interviewed.
Human Rights Watch did not make any payments or offer other incentives to interviewees. Care was taken with victims of trauma to minimize the risk that recounting their experiences could further traumatize them. Where appropriate, Human Rights Watch provided contact information for organizations offering legal, social, or counseling services, or linked those organizations with survivors.
In this report, “Arauca” refers to the province of Arauca, in eastern Colombia, also referred to as a “department.” We use “Arauca City” or “Arauca municipality” interchangeably to refer to the municipality of Arauca, the provincial capital.
Under Colombian law, private actors as well as state actors can be held accountable for the criminal offense of “forcible disappearances,” defined as any form of deprivation of liberty in circumstances in which those responsible conceal and refuse to acknowledge the fact of deprivation of liberty or give information about the person’s whereabouts. This use differs from the definition in international law of enforced disappearance. This report uses the term “forcible disappearance” to refer to the crime under Colombian law.
Abuses by Armed Groups
Armed groups enjoy significant power and exercise tight control over the population in Arauca and Apure. Members the groups operating there have committed numerous abuses—including unlawful killings, kidnappings, sexual violence, child recruitment, and forced labor—to assert and maintain this control. They have carried out abuses on both the Colombian and Venezuelan sides of the border.
Many of these abuses are violations of international humanitarian law, which is applicable to non-state armed groups as well as national armed forces. Serious violations of international humanitarian law committed with criminal intent are war crimes.
This section of the report details those abuses. To the extent possible, it also provides data on the numbers of killings and other abuses in recent years. Because few people report violence and abuses for fear of retaliation and because Venezuelan authorities have constantly failed to release information on crime rates in the country, the numbers provided below likely understate the extent of the abuses, and in some cases significantly understate it. Our research suggests that countless victims and their families live in silence.
Armed groups have committed unlawful killings in Arauca and Apure.
Unlawful killings are on the rise in Arauca. In 2015, the year in which the FARC declared a ceasefire as part of peace negotiations, the Colombian government reported 96 homicides in Arauca. In 2018, 160 people were killed in the department, a rate of 59 murders for every 100,000 people—roughly two times the national rate. Preliminary statistics from the National Institute of Forensic Science indicate that the numbers continue to rise: 161 people were killed in Arauca between January and November of 2019.
The ELN and the FARC dissident group are responsible for most of the murders in Arauca, as well as for the increase in the murder rates in the province, according to the Ombudsperson’s Office, humanitarian organizations, and the Institute of Forensic Science. According to Colombia’s National Institute of Forensic Science, in 2018, the ELN and the FARC dissident group were thought to be responsible for killing at least 93 people in Arauca, 58 percent of the total that year. The Institute believes that the ELN and the FARC dissident group were responsible for at least 97 killings between January and November 2019, roughly 60 percent of the total.
Venezuelan authorities do not produce comprehensive or reliable statistics on crime rates in the country, making it impossible to determine the full scope of murders by armed groups in Apure state. However, armed groups have also committed unlawful killings in Apure. In September 2018, for example, the ELN reportedly killed the head of the Scientific, Legal, and Criminalistics Investigation Agency (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas, CICPC) in Guasdualito, Apure, after members of the agency allegedly killed a guerrilla commander’s child.
Armed groups in Arauca and Apure often kill those who violate their “rules,” according to multiple sources in Arauca and Apure. In at least 3 cases in 2018 and 16 in 2019 the victim’s bodies in Arauca were found with a piece of paper beside them, stating the apparent justification for the killing: being an alleged “informant,” “rapist,” “drug dealer,” or “thief,” for example. In some cases, the FARC dissident group identified itself as responsible on the piece of paper.
In some cases, victims were found with their hands tied or showing other signs of torture. Colombia’s Institute of Forensic Science told Human Rights Watch that they documented 23 cases of murder with signs of torture—most of which were cases where the victims had their hands tied—between January and mid-August 2019, up from 20 in all of 2018 and 3 in 2017.
Victims of murder in Arauca include Venezuelan exiles. In 2018, according to the National Police, 25 Venezuelans were killed in the province. Preliminary statistics indicate that 30 Venezuelans were killed in Arauca between January and November 2019. Community leaders, humanitarian workers, and human rights officials told Human Rights Watch that many Venezuelans have been killed by armed groups for violating their “norms.” Many of them come from areas where armed groups are not present, so they often do not know these rules exist nor what they are.
In some cases, armed groups first took their Venezuelan or Colombian victims to Venezuela, often to interrogate or “investigate” them before murdering them and leaving their bodies in Arauca. For example, in May 2019, members of the ELN kidnapped Andrés Gómez (pseudonym) in Arauca. His mother went to Venezuela where a commander from the ELN told her that they had taken Andrés there for an “interview” and that he would return home the next day. His dead body was found in one of Arauca’s municipalities, on August 1, 2019.
Armed groups have also killed human rights defenders and community leaders in Colombia. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has documented six cases of human rights defenders—a term it uses in Colombia to include community leaders seeking to promote or protect rights—killed in Arauca between January and late July 2019, up from four in all of 2018 and one in 2017. Four defenders killed in 2019 were working on children’s rights issues; OHCHR and the Attorney General’s Office are investigating whether some may have been killed because they opposed child recruitment. OHCHR and the Attorney General’s Office have indicated that the ELN was responsible for at least one of the murders committed since 2017 in Arauca. Additionally, Alfonso Correa, an Arauca human rights defender, was killed in March 2019 in Casanare, a province south of Arauca. Investigations by the Attorney General’s Office and the OHCHR point to ELN responsibility in this case as well.
The FARC dissident group and the ELN recruit Venezuelan and Colombian children in Arauca and Apure. Some recruited children are as young as 12 years old. Credible sources told Human Rights Watch that both armed groups have established camps in Apure, where they train new recruits, including children.
While Venezuelan authorities do not produce reliable statistics on child recruitment, the Victims’ Unit in Colombia registered 14 cases of child recruitment in Arauca between 2017 and 2019. Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office is investigating 21 cases of child recruitment committed since 2017 in Arauca, including 6 victims who were Venezuelan. Yet there is significant under-reporting of child recruitment, according to a humanitarian source, two human rights officials, and a government official who works on the issue. Indeed, a government official and a humanitarian organization reported the recruitment of 15 children by the FARC dissident group in the municipality of Saravena alone between January and March of 2019.
Child recruitment by the FPLN appears to be uncommon, according to local community leaders, journalists, and researchers in Apure. Human Rights Watch did not document any such cases.
The ELN and the FARC dissident group offer children payment if they join, as well as access to motorcycles and guns, according to humanitarian actors, and community leaders. Human Rights Watch received messages from community leaders in Apure through a local reliable source, in which the leaders stated that Colombian armed groups recruit children in the state. One of the leaders said the ELN organized soccer games to convince children to join the group’s ranks.
Children are recruited to be full-time fighters, living in guerrilla camps and taking part in combat, or to be militia members, living in urban areas and collecting extortion payments, providing information for their rural counterparts, and carrying out small-scale violence, such as grenade attacks.
Humanitarian actors in Arauca who have had some form of contact with the armed groups also report that children make up part of the ranks of both armed groups. In July 2019, 16 members of the FARC dissident group in Arauca handed themselves over to the Armed Forces; six of them were under the age of 18, including one Venezuelan. Almost all of the demobilized fighters were from an indigenous community.
Children recruited by the FARC dissident group face a precarious situation if they want to escape from the armed group once they become adults. Under Colombian law, there is no legal route if adults wish to demobilize and, unlike ELN fighters, they are not eligible for reintegration programs.
The FARC dissident group has retaliated against members who have tried to escape. One witness to FARC dissident abuses inside a camp in Venezuela said he saw a “revolutionary trial” in which the group tried two fighters—an adult and a child—for trying to escape. He told Human Rights Watch that the fighters voted to kill the adult but gave the child a “second chance” and imposed a sanction that consisted of forcing him to dig trenches. In August 2019, the army rescued a 2-year-old boy who had been kidnaped by the FARC dissident group in Arauca in April. He is the son of two fighters who had escaped from the group’s ranks and had apparently been kidnapped in retaliation for their escape from the group.
Kidnappings, Forcible Disappearances, and Forced Labor
The ELN and FARC dissident group in Arauca and Apure kidnap civilians, including to subject the victims to forced labor as a punishment for violating the groups’ “rules.”
Since 2017, 24 people have been kidnapped by armed groups in Arauca, including 13 in 2018 and 5 between January and September 2019. These include cases in which armed groups demanded extortion payments or subjected the victims to forced labor. Victims include members of the Colombian armed forces.
In Apure, the ELN, and the FARC dissident group kidnap people mostly to force them to carry out forced labor, according to journalists, residents, a human rights activist, and researchers. Armed groups in Apure also kidnap farmers so they can take over their land.
The number of people who have gone missing has increased in Arauca over the past two years. According to Colombia’s Institute of Forensic Science, the reported number of missing people in the province increased from eight in 2017 to 14 in 2018. The Institute reported that 12 people went missing in Arauca between January and November 2019. Under Colombian law, private actors as well as state actors can be held accountable for the criminal offense of “forcible disappearances” and the Attorney General’s Office told Human Rights Watch that, as of September 2019, prosecutors had pending investigations into 46 cases of alleged forcible disappearance committed in Arauca since 2017.
Some of the people reported missing have reappeared after months of forced labor in farms or guerrilla camps—a form of punishment imposed by armed groups in Arauca.  Largely in an effort to impose social control, armed groups force people who violate “norms” to work in their camps or on farms reportedly run by people linked to them.
Human Rights Watch documented two cases, described below, of forced labor—one by the ELN and another by the FARC dissident group—and received credible allegations from humanitarian actors and locals about three more. In both cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the victims stated that they saw or spoke with other people who were also forced to work in the places the armed groups were holding them. In both cases, the victims were held in Venezuela, where they were subject to forced labor. To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, Colombian and Venezuelan authorities do not maintain an official record of cases of forced labor, though local observers believe this form of “punishment” by armed groups is more commonly implemented by the ELN than by other armed groups.
Victims of forced labor are not always kidnapped. For example, Human Rights Watch received credible allegations that in late 2017 a group of young men who an armed group accused of robbery was forced to clean up parts of their own town in Apure.
Threats and Other Forms of Social Control
Armed groups in Arauca and Apure routinely threaten people to ensure social control. These threats are often directed against people who violate the groups’ “rules” or to pressure civilians to do as the groups want.
Colombia’s Victims’ Unit registered more than 2,000 threats related to the armed conflict in Arauca between 2017 and September 1, 2019. “It’s like there are two forms of government,” one human rights activist in Apure told Human Rights Watch. “They [the armed groups] threaten you twice and the third time is a death sentence.”
Threats can come in multiple forms. For example, both the FARC dissident group and the ELN make threats through pamphlets, announcing “social cleansing” —a term used in Colombia and in Venezuela’s Apure to describe the killing of certain people considered “undesirable” for society, including thieves and drug addicts. These threats occur both in Apure and Arauca.
These pamphlets are consistent with the manual of “Unified Rules of Conduct and Coexistence” created by the FARC and ELN in 2013 after they ended their 2006-2010 conflict. The manual includes rules for both guerrilla fighters and locals. The “norms” in the manual, which the ELN and the FARC dissident group continue to apply, are designed to control numerous aspects of daily life: they regulate fishing; prohibit rape, theft, and murder; mandate timely debt payments; and even specify when bars should close. The manual also obliges community members to work one day a month in a community task. While the manual includes references to “exemplary punishment” and “adequate response” to “serious crimes,” it does not specify the punishments to be imposed for violating the rules. In practice, however, these punishments include death, forced labor, threats, and displacement.
While armed groups apparently do not apply the manual in Apure, Venezuela, the punishments they mete out for comparable “infractions” are the same. The three armed groups operating in Apure punish locals for not following the “rules,” including through threats, forced labor, and occasionally murder.
Several humanitarian aid workers, human rights officials, and activists told Human Rights Watch that it is more common for the ELN to use pamphlets or threaten people before killing them, while the FARC dissident group tends to kill its victims without warning.
Government officials are also often threatened, at least in Colombia. Five out of seven heads of local personerías—municipal human rights offices—in Arauca have been threatened by armed groups, and some have fled the province.
Politicians, including some who ran for governor, mayor, and the municipal council in the October 2019 local elections in Colombia, have also received threats from armed groups. In a pamphlet in February 2019, for example, the FARC dissident group threatened members of the Democratic Center party, the party led by former President Álvaro Uribe and current President Iván Duque. Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office has stated that four of the seven municipalities in Arauca present an “extreme” —the highest—level of risk for electoral violence. It has noted that the city of Arauca is the municipality in Colombia with the highest number of human rights violations against people who work on electoral campaigns or are candidates themselves.
Armed groups often require people to go to meetings with commanders, where they can be threatened as well. It is common for groups in Arauca to hand over to victims handwritten notes on small pieces of paper with the armed group’s logo, called “vikingos” (the Spanish word for “vikings”), calling them to a meeting with a commander. On other occasions, some people have been told that they have to meet with an armed group by someone who approaches them in public. For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed a politician who received two notes from the ELN. In November 2018, the group extorted him for cash; in July 2019, the ELN demanded he appear at a specific point for unstated reasons. A member of the group had previously told him that he should do as they say.
These meetings take place on both the Venezuelan and Colombian sides of the border. One community leader told Human Rights Watch that he had to cross the border to Venezuela for a meeting, where commanders of the FARC dissident group and the ELN were present. In the meeting, the commanders explained to him the groups’ concerns about some government initiatives in his town. According to the leader, who said he had been previously threatened three times by the armed groups, “it would be too dangerous not to go” to the meeting.
In rural areas of Arauca and Apure, armed groups place signs in the streets or use megaphones to communicate their rules to local residents or make public announcements about government policies or programs. Some, for example, set curfews in rural areas and forbid people to wear helmets while riding motorcycles so that fighters can see their faces. Ironically, a community leader told Human Rights Watch that “using a helmet can be dangerous.”
Armed groups in Arauca and Apure also engage in widespread extortion. Virtually everyone in the province has been a victim of extortion, including poor farmers, according to interviews by Human Rights Watch. “We don’t produce enough to feed our families and we have to pay [them],” a local farmer told Human Rights Watch. Nonetheless, few victims appear willing to report such extortion. While multiple sources told Human Rights Watch that extortion is widespread in Arauca, Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating only 263 cases allegedly committed since 2017. Similarly, the Defense Ministry has registered 285 cases of extortion between 2017 and late-September 2019.
The ELN and the FARC dissident group separately extort people in the same areas and sometimes demand the same amount of money, but it is often unclear whether or when the groups expect residents to pay both. A victim of extortion and a human rights official told Human Rights Watch that people do not have to pay both groups, but two residents told Human Rights Watch that they had been forced to do so.  As mentioned above, some people are summoned to meetings in Venezuela to make such payments.