As national elections approach, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group has intensified its attacks on civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Over the past week, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC-EP) have killed at least 20 civilians in two separate massacres and an attack using gas cylinder bombs. On March 12, Colombia will hold congressional elections, which will be followed by presidential elections on May 28.
Over the past week, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People's Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC–EP) have killed at least 20 civilians in two separate massacres and an attack using gas cylinder bombs. On March 12, Colombia will hold congressional elections, which will be followed by presidential elections on May 28.
"These massacres appear timed to spread terror before the elections and undermine the democratic process," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "By continuing to commit atrocities, the FARC has once again displayed a complete disregard for the lives and well-being of the people it claims to represent."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that recent FARC attacks have included grave violations of the right to life and the laws of war, including deliberate killings of civilians and the indiscriminate use of gas cylinder bombs.
In February the FARC declared a "paro" (or enforced shutdown of civic and commercial activities) in several Colombian states. In the weeks following the announcement, the FARC has blocked roads, burnt cars, attacked electricity towers, and threatened the civilian population if they fail to comply with the general shutdown.
On the night of Saturday, February 25, members of the FARC reportedly stopped a passenger bus that was traveling in the state of Caquetá. The group shot up the bus and then, with civilians still on board, set it on fire, killing nine people and injuring at least 11 more. On Monday, February 27, in the nearby state of Huila, FARC members broke into a meeting of the Rivera town council, shot and killed nine council members, and injured three other people.
Over the weekend, in an attempt to take control of the town of Montebonito, in the state of Caldas, FARC guerrillas launched gas cylinder bombs into the town. One of the bombs fell into a civilian residence, killing a man and his six-month old baby. Other civilians were also injured in the attack.
"The FARC's indiscriminate use of gas cylinder bombs has repeatedly resulted in civilian casualties," said Vivanco. "Yet year after year, they continue to use these inaccurate and devastating weapons, in clear violation of international humanitarian law."
Meanwhile, amid negotiations with the Colombian government, representatives of the rebel National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, or ELN) on March 3 announced that the ELN would abstain from "any military action" that would affect the congressional elections. However, the ELN has failed to make any long-term commitment to respect international human rights and humanitarian law. During the past year it has continued to flagrantly violate these laws through kidnappings and other atrocities.
"Given the ELN’s record of vicious attacks on civilians, a promise not to interfere with elections is simply not enough," said Vivanco. "Both the ELN and the FARC must immediately cease their atrocities, release all their hostages, and respect the laws of war."