Since 2005, the NGO Fundaredes has denounced the activity of Colombian irregular armed groups in Venezuela. At present, the presence of these criminal organizations has expanded throughout the national territory. This presence includes various Colombian guerrilla groups, paramilitary groups, and organized crime gangs.
On the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review of Venezuela, which will be carried out by the UN Human Rights Council in January 2022, several human rights organizations in the country presented contributions that evidence the actions of these groups and their impact in the human rights of the population. From the information collected, it is observed that these groups operate with the consent of or in complicity with Venezuelan authorities.
With regard to Colombian guerrilla groups, Fundaredes highlights the existence of 5 stations belonging to the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) with reach in 36 municipalities of Venezuela, as well as the control of gold and coltan mines by the ELN in the states of Bolívar and Amazonas, which is known as the Orinoco Mining Arc (OMA), an area of 111,800 sq km that encompasses part of the Bolívar, Amazonas and Delta Amacuro states, where minerals such as gold, diamonds, bauxite, coltan, iron and copper are exploited.
The presence of various armed groups in the OMA is also registered by other organizations, which warn about the subjugation of the population, resulting in kidnappings, forced recruitment, disappearances, torture, assassinations, forced labor, population displacements and findings of mass graves.
Thus, the Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University highlights that “boys, girls and adolescents are used for begging, employed in high-risk work such as exploration and transport of materials and people in underground mines, prostitution or recruitment by irregular armed actors”.
This statement coincides with what was affirmed by the Venezuelan Working Group on Modern Slavery (GTEMV), according to which this type of mining activity controlled by armed groups leads people belonging to indigenous peoples to become victims of forms of modern slavery and human trafficking, especially in the case of indigenous women. In addition, in the case of children and adolescents, the GTEMV indicates that they are subjected to labor and sexual exploitation.
The growing presence of armed groups in indigenous territories has also led to the displacement and migration of indigenous people to neighboring countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Guyana, where, according to information provided by the Kapé Kapé organization, “they face numerous difficulties before arriving to their destinations. (…) When traveling without the documents that are required at legal border crossings, the probabilities of traveling by irregular and unsafe land or river routes increase, in the same way increasing the risk of being victims of abuse, assault, violence, labor exploitation, prostitution, among others. Such abuses come from armed groups, [so-called] unions or other groups that frequently control the areas or routes through which indigenous migrants travel”.
Not only the indigenous peoples migrants are affected by these groups. Fundaredes recalls that some migrants, especially young men, and adolescents, are captured by irregular groups during their transit through the border with Colombia, to be incorporated into the drug trafficking industry.
In mining areas, the action of armed groups has also led to environmental degradation, as stated by the organization Clima 21, which associates these groups with the smuggling of mercury, a mineral used in gold mining. According to Clima 21, the effects on the environment in the Venezuelan Amazon region occur in areas where armed groups “impose their rule through the use of weapons in collusion with corrupt military sectors that enrich themselves from them. This has produced a territory where the Venezuelan State has stopped acting and therefore the communities and people present there are totally unprotected and very vulnerable”.
The denunciation of the presence of armed groups of various kinds with control over the population and territory has not been without consequences for Venezuelan civil society organizations. On July 2, 2021, after having been subjected to various threats, three Fundaredes workers were detained and prosecuted by an anti-terrorism court, being charged with the crimes of “incitement to hatred”, “treason against the fatherland” and “terrorism”. Fundaredes has indicated that “during this process, they were denied the legal assistance enshrined within the guarantees of the right to defense, and spokesmen for the Venezuelan State, through public TV, have issued hateful messages against these human rights defenders”.