By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BOGOTA, Colombia — A border dispute between Venezuela and Colombia has forced hundreds of Colombians living in Venezuela out of their homes, and over the border into Colombia. Civilians living in the border region have reported that Venezuela National Guard forces have thrown people out of their homes, and in some cases have demolished houses belonging to Colombian migrants.
A firefight between Venezuelan forces and smugglers injured a number of forces, and caused President Nicolas Maduro to order the closing of several border crossings to Colombia. He also declared a state of emergency in six western cities along the border, suspending a number of constitutional rights. The suspension allows the National Guard to search homes and businesses without a warrant.
Maduro cited concerns of increased instances of smuggling and paramilitary activity in Colombia for the closures. Since the closing over 6,000 Colombians have left Venezuela – 1,000 were deported and another 5,000 left voluntarily.
Talks between the foreign ministers of the two nations failed to produce any results. Maduro said that he would not open the border until the Colombian government “regained its sanity” and did more to protect the border.
Some have accused Maduro of prolonging the dispute to detract attention from the country’s economic issues.
Civilians have been using the Tachira River, which divides Venezuela from Colombia, to flee the country. The Colombian government has mobilized disaster relief resources to provide aid to those coming into the country.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has recalled the ambassador to Venezuela after his request to send an ombudsman to observe the human rights situation in the border city of San Antonio del Tachira order was denied. He also called for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations and the Organization of American States.
Santos’s handling of the border crisis has been heavily criticized by opposition leader Alvaro Uribe, saying that Santos has done nothing to counter Maduro’s aggression.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the two countries to work to resolve the crises, reminding them of their obligations under international law. “We urge the Venezuelan authorities to ensure that the human rights of all affected individuals are fully respected, particularly in the context of any deportations,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Commissioner.
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