July 2013 News Update – South America Region

Going back a couple of decades, the group was an active participant in a Regional Action Network involving Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – although 90% of the work centred on Brazil. This has gradually evolved into the South America Region and we get periodic updates and actions from the hard working voluntary coordinators. We thought you may find it useful if we shared the updates to give you a feel for some of the ways Amnesty currently works and the campigning that is being done. At the end of the report is a link to an Urgent Action and sample letter:-


In early July AIUK coordinators and staff at the International Secretariat were able to brief the new UK Ambassador to Paraguay, Jeremy Hobbs, before he departed to take up his post. The Embassy closed in 2005 and is just now reopening. We were able to brief the Ambassador on the human rights situation in Paraguay and, in particular, the two case files of indigenous communities removed from their lands, Yakye Axa and Sawhowyamaxa.


On 14 June Judge Alfiuni was released from detention. In December 2009 she released banker Eligio Cedeño in accordance with Venezuelan law and was herself arrested the following day. Amnesty International has consistently denounced her detention as undue political interference and arbitrary in nature, in contravention of the independence of the magistrates and judges. The conditions imposed on her release are harsh: she may not leave the country, speak to the press or communicate on social networks.


In theory, paramilitarism ended with the demobilisation process. However, groups continue to operate with impunity. Since our last update a paramilitary plan to kill human rights activists has been exposed. Members of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes in Sucre (MOVICE) have been threatened and attacked by paramilitaries. These and other organised crimes have been planned from within prison. On 3rd June the police commander of the Department of Sucre in northern Colombia received an e-mail saying paramilitaries (believed to be the bloque Héroes de los Montes de María) were intending to kill human rights defender Juan David Díaz, his wife and another person. His father Eudaldo was killed after he denounced links between paramilitaries, local politicians and the Armed Forces in February 2003.


A worrying finding of the respected Colombian NGO CINEP is that cases of “falsos positivos” (the practice of killing innocent civilians, dressing the bodies in combat fatigues and presenting them as guerrillas who were killed in action) continue. The report outlines 20 new cases with 52 victims, despite the Colombian Government declaring at the end of 2012 there was not a single case that year.

Amnesty International continues to follow closely the court case “Caso Manizales – Falsos Positivos”. The next hearing date is August 12 at 2 pm. In 2008 during a routine army operation by the Anti-Guerrilla Battalion two farmers were arrested. They later turned up dead in a rural zone of Manizales. Seven soldiers have already been convicted of the crime of aggravated murder. Human Rights Defender Alfimir Castillo, President of the Women’s Cane Cutters Committee and the mother of Darvey Mosquera, a young EJE victim, received a written death threat a week before hearings were to begin against senior officers of the Anti-Guerrilla Battalion and an army brigade. Updates to follow.


Amnesty International continues to be concerned that the bill shortly to be debated before Colombia’s Congress to reform the military justice system (“fuero militar”) will shield members of the Armed Forces and the police from justice for crimes under international law. Military courts in Colombia have for decades shielded members of the security forces, especially those higher up the chain of command from justice for crimes under international law, including extrajudicial executions. Congress should reject the law reforming the military justice system. Cases should appear before the criminal courts where punishments are likely to be more severe.

We link to an Urgent Action in which Human Rights Defenders Diego Martinez and Jeison Paba received death threats because they proposed a campaign against the strengthening of the military justice system. Amnesty’s recent HANDS postcard campaign insists that members of the security forces who commit crimes of sexual violence must be dealt with in the civilian courts and not in the military justice system.

Links to sample letters to President Santos and Attorney General Montealegre


There is profound concern regarding the situation in Catatumbo, Northern Santander. A social protest organised by peasant farmers on 11 June has resulted in the death and injuries of some of the demonstrators. Unarmed farmers have allegedly been fired upon by an anti-riot police unit and the army. Accusations by high-level public officials against the social organisations as being infiltrated by the guerrilla appear to have led to an overreaction by Armed Forces. Amnesty International calls for a full and impartial investigation by the civilian justice system.


The Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have reached agreements in Havana on land reform. Colombia has highly unequal land distribution and this has been one of the most contentious issues during the peace talks. Land reform is essential for a sustainable peace. The next major theme for discussion is political participation of FARC.