A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) shed heart-wrenching insights of how Columbians were entangled in a ‘draconian’ lockdown of sorts – imposed by drug cartels and rebel groups.

The lockdowns imposed by these violent gangs on small towns like Tumaco have lethal repercussions, as the ban brings the livelihood of residents to a screeching halt. Armed groups reportedly operate and disseminate instructions through pamphlets and WhatsApp messages to warn citizens from earning a living or performing simple activities like fishing and the like.

The deadly gangs ensure that the city winds up by 5 pm, thus imposing curfews a lot stricter than the government-induced lockdowns.

With the extremists trying their best to curtail freedom of the residents, stern orders to stay indoors come what may have inhibited scores of critically ill residents from visiting hospitals. While people usually avoid breaching the rules laid down by the armed gangs, defaulters have had to pay with their lives or had their private vehicles torched in cities like Cauca and Guaviare.

“They have shut down transport between villages, and when someone is suspected to have Covid-19 they are told to leave the region or they will be killed,” said one community leader in Colombia’s southern Putumayo province to a media outlet. The source’s identity has been kept confidential in order to protect them from reprisal. “And people have no choice but to obey because they never see the government here,” added the source.

A volley of armed groups is allegedly “dissident Farc fighters who refused to hand in their guns” while several others belong to smaller clusters of rebel groups and right-wing paramilitary militias. These groups depend on the cocaine trade for a livelihood.

Columbians are fighting this crisis amid a pandemic, which has plunged the South American country in turmoil. The country has logged in 159,898 cases, with 5,625 deaths. There’s a constant surge of over 5,000 a day.

Several community leaders have met with untimely deaths after calling upon authorities to look into the gangs’ lockdown orders.

José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s America’s director released a statement on Wednesday morning suggesting that there was a dire need for the government to take proactive measures to protect communities from acute poverty amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

police line crime scene
A representational image of a crime scene. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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