Human rights groups are now warning of a new war that is breaking out in Colombia, where they say tens of thousands of civilians are living at the mercy of illegal armed groups that profit off of drug trafficking.
While the United States has largely focused on the current state of Venezuela, a new report warns there is an ongoing crisis in the neighboring country of Colombia that has been ignored on a global scale.
More than 40,000 people have been forced to flee from their homes in the northeastern part of Colombia in the last two years, as a result of fighting between armed groups in the Catatumbo region, seeking to control drug trafficking routes along the border with Venezuela.According to United Nation figures this mountainous area is currently producing 15 percent of Colombia’s coca crops—the base ingredient in cocaine
A UN Human Rights Watch investigation found the armed groups are not only abusing civilians in the region – but they’re also accused of killings, disappearances, sexual violence, child recruitment, and forced displacement.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was known as the country’s most powerful rebel group for more than 50 years before they agreed to a peace deal with the government in 2017.
In the group’s absence, displaced members have gone on to join other local armed groups, who are fighting for control of the drug trafficking routes in a land – known for cocaine production.
“In Colombia and outside of Colombia there is an impression that with the peace agreement, with the signing of agreements, the situation has been resolved and the country is at peace,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch America’s Division. “Sirs, the country is at war in Catatumbo. And this armed conflict violates all the principles specifically mentioned in the second protocol of the Geneva Convention.”
Human Rights Watch is now accusing the Colombian government of failing to meet its obligations to protect civilians in the region, which includes an estimated 25,000 migrants from Venezuela. They claim refugees who fled to Colombia for better economic conditions have been forced into sex work and drug production, in order to make enough money to survive.
“Venezuelan children and minors are making cocaine. We interviewed and we know of cases of children between 8 and 14 years old who wake up at 4 in the morning to make cocaine. And this, if they’re lucky,” Vivanco said.
The investigation also noted more than 280 human rights defenders have been killed since 2016, raising concerns for individuals who attempt to stand up to the local armed groups in the region.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government has continued to support the US in its mission to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, despite the fact that the ongoing economic sanctions imposed by Washington have contributed to the conditions that have resulted in more than 4 million refugees fleeing across the border to Colombia.
The latest reports from Colombia raise fears of a new humanitarian crisis that is having a devastating impact on the civilians in the region.