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Colombia/Venezuela: Investigate Border Killings and Attack

Armed Groups Reportedly Commit Massacre and Shoot Human Rights Defender

(Washington, DC) - The governments of Venezuela and Colombia should thoroughly and promptly investigate the recent abductions and killings of ten men by an unidentified armed group on the Venezuelan side of the border between the two countries, Human Rights Watch said today. A separate attack on a longtime Colombian human rights defender in the state of Meta should also be fully investigated, Human Rights Watch said.

In one episode, armed men kidnapped a group of persons on October 11, 2009, while they were playing soccer in the Venezuelan town of Chururú, near the border with Colombia. The armed men reportedly held the group for two weeks and then killed most of them, including eight Colombians, a Peruvian and a Venezuelan. One man survived and another is reportedly missing.

"The brutal killing of these abductees unfortunately fits in with the pattern of abuses by armed groups in Colombia's conflict," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Venezuela and Colombia need to work together to hold the culprits accountable and prevent more horrific atrocities like this."

Colombian news reports cite the only known survivor, a Colombian, as saying that an armed group commanded by a man known as "Payaso" held the victims for nearly two weeks in a mountain camp, in chains with locks at their necks. He said that Payaso accused the victims of being paramilitary recruits. On October 23, the survivor said, the group took the abductees to another location, forced them onto their knees, and shot at them repeatedly, leaving them for dead.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Colombian government to investigate fully the shooting of a human rights defender, Islena Rey, in the state of Meta, Colombia, on October 17. According to initial reports, a person on the shore opened fire on Ms. Rey's boat while she was in transit with at least two companions on the Güéjar River, after conducting community meetings in the town of Puerto Toledo.   

Ms. Rey, who was seriously wounded in the attack, is the sole survivor of the Meta Civic Committee on Human Rights, a human rights organization that operated in Meta in the 1990s but whose leaders were killed, one by one, by armed groups during that decade. In recent years, Ms. Rey has started to rebuild the committee, and has been actively traveling around Meta, often alone, to conduct investigations and provide assistance to victims of human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch visited Meta in March and benefited substantially from Ms. Rey's advice and assistance. Various sources have attributed the attack on Ms. Rey to the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In addition to the guerrillas, successor groups to the paramilitaries operate in the region, where there is also a substantial Colombian Army presence.

"Islena Rey has shown tremendous courage in carrying out her work as a human rights defender, virtually on her own, in one of the most difficult regions of Colombia," said Vivanco. "The Colombian authorities need to find and arrest her attackers, and show that violence against human rights defenders will not be tolerated."

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