Armed militia groups have carried out a string of brutal executions in order to enforce Covid-19 lockdowns in Colombia, it is claimed.
Citizens have been sent chilling leaflets warning that they will be killed if they leave their homes, according to human rights activists.
Armed groups have imposed curfews, lockdowns and restricted movement to stop the virus spreading, and enforced them with violence, Human Rights Watch said.
The organisation says it is aware of at least four killings linked to lockdown.
Three civilians were killed and a further four injured when they were attacked in a park in the southwestern state of Cauca, the group stated.
And last month community leader Edison León Pérez, was killed in Putumayo after reportedly complaining about checkpoints being put in place by militias.
Fighters from the National Liberation Army (ELN) distributed leaflets saying they would be “forced to kill people in order to preserve lives” because the population had not “respected the orders to prevent Covid-19″.
The group warned that only those who worked in food stories and pharmacies could work – saying everyone else had to stay “inside their houses.”
Similar restrictions are in place in 11 of Colombia’s 32 states – with violence used in at least five and threats of violence in a further four.
Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said: “Draconian ‘punishments’ imposed by armed groups to prevent the spread of Covid-19 mean that people in remote and impoverished communities across Colombia risk being attacked and even killed if they leave their homes.
“In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“This abusive social control reflects the government’s long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations.”
Groups involved in these crimes are said to include groups that emerged after guerrilla fighers the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) demobilised in 2016.
Also enforcing strict rules are the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), it is claimed.
Human Rights Watch said it is aware of cases where motorcycles belong to people who did not stick to groups’ rules were burned.
The rules have left many Colombians unable to buy food, and vendors unable to sell their goods, it is claimed.
One community leader in the city of Tumaco said: “If [people]dare to go outside, there is no one to buy, so families are starving.”
Since the start of the pandemic, 6,288 have died in Colombia, and there have been more than 182,000 confirmed infections.