South America Newsletter April 2018


In this month’s newsletter we have an urgent action on Colombia where 500 Yukpa indigenous people crossed into the country and are being threatened with return to Venezuela. We have sad news from several countries in the region. In Colombia, Javier Bernardo Cuero Ortíz, the son of Bernardo Cuero was sadly killed on 19 March. In Brazil, a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and prominent rights advocate was killed in what appears to have been a targeted assassination. In Paraguay, a 14-year-old rape victim died during childbirth. And in Venezuela, 68 people were killed in one of the country’s worst jail fires. Meanwhile, Martin Vizcarra was sworn in as Peruvian President following the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and Argentina was up for review at the Human Rights Council. Finally, in London last month Amnesty UK partnered with Human Rights Watch for the presentation of the film Women of the Venezuelan Chaos; while this month Graham will attend a meeting with the Chilean Ambassador to raise human rights issues.


Amnesty issued an Urgent Action on behalf of the 500 Yukpa indigenous people that crossed to Colombia and are facing the threat of being sent back to Venezuela. This violates their rights as a binational population. The Yukpa people settled in Cucuta have been evicted twice since 1 October 2017 following the city mayor’s directive. They are currently living in highly precarious conditions lacking basic services such as drinking water, food and access to health or education. Please take action and download the UA.

Amnesty issued a public statement condemning the murder of Javier Bernardo Cuero Ortíz, son of Bernardo Cuero Bravo, on 19 March 2018. His brother Silvio Dubán Ortíz was also killed during the events. The murder of Javier Bernardo took place just nine months after the murder of his father Bernardo Cuero, human rights defender and victims’ leader of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians in June 2017. The murders occurred just weeks after the trial hearing set to press charges against the perpetrators of the crime.

14 million Colombians elected a Congress and Senate on 18 March. Although President Santos’s party saw heavy losses, a small majority in both houses are comprised of parties favouring the peace accord with the FARC. The FARC’s party ran candidates for the first time, but received only 0.4% of the vote. However, as the Peace Accord guaranteed them 5 seats in each of the Congress and the Senate, the FARC will have a presence in both houses. The first round of Presidential elections takes place 17 May with the second round on 17 June. After 2 terms in office, President Santos is ineligible for re-election.

President Santos has said peace talks with the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) will resume after a six-week halt. Mr Santos suspended talks with the ELN in Ecuador on 29 January after a series of deadly attacks on police stations.

Colombia Peace Monitoring reports the National Coordinator of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana warns the government that it’s crop substitution program, part of Chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord, is not going well. The government had abandoned aerial eradication for crop substitution, resulting in an increase in cultivation of narcotic plants. Drug money finances much of the ongoing conflict in Colombia, with rival groups concentrating their firepower in coca growing and cocaine processing areas. Participants in crop-substitution efforts have been among a growing wave of social leaders killed in post-conflict Colombia.


Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro councillor, and her driver were killed on 14 March in what appears to have been a targeted assassination. Franco had championed a range of causes including the rights of black women and residents of favelas (shanty towns) and other marginalised communities. She was an expert on police violence and had been an outspoken critic of police killings and their aggressive tactics. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express their anger over the murder. Amnesty condemned the killings, and called on the authorities to carry out a swift investigation. For one of the many accounts of the incident, click here.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated on 29 March that the Brazilian Armed Forces in Rio de Janeiro ‘operate under rules that allow unacceptably broad leeway for the use of lethal force’, allowing unjustifiable killings. HRW reported that the military’s rules of engagement contrast to the principles of the United Nations.  Although deployed there since July 2017, the armed forces were given command over all of Rio de Janeiro’s police forces and its prison system. For HRW’s full account, click here.

Paulo Nascimento, a leading member of a community group in Barcarena (Pará state), was shot dead on 12 March. For years, communities near an industrial park in Barcarena complained that an aluminium plant and other factories were contaminating their water, causing illnesses and poisoning fish. Community organisers had begun to receive threats after they launched a legal claim against the state government and certain businesses in November. A lawyer acting for the group stated that they believed the murder was related to the local communities’ campaign. For The Guardian’s account, click here, and for further information on the lack of protection for water defenders in traditional communities, click here.


Amnesty UK was pleased to partner with Human Rights Watch for the presentation of the film Women of the Venezuelan Chaos at The Barbican in London on March 13 and 15.  The event was a sell-out and a Q&A session with the filmmaker followed the film.  If you did not attend, we encourage you to look out for the film when it becomes more generally available.

At the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty drew the Council’s attention to the human rights crisis, noting that this was not on the meeting’s agenda.  Amnesty told the Council that Venezuela was experiencing a human rights crisis unprecedented in its history; adding that Amnesty had documented a wide range of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful killings, abusive use of force, enforced disappearances, lack of an independent judiciary and violations to the rights to food, health and adequate housing.  Amnesty called for the Council to examine the crisis based solely on human rights standards, not divisive politics, and focus on the rights and needs of those impacted.

On 28 March, 68 people were killed in one of Venezuela’s worst jail fires.  Varying versions of exactly what happened inside the police station’s crowded jailed cells were circulated among relatives and human rights groups among a deafening silence from officials, who have yet to provide a full account.

There is still time to act on the Urgent Action about Gilber Caro.  Gilber, a political prisoner, reappeared at a trial hearing on 13 March but fears for his life and safety at his new detention centre.


Peru has a new President following the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was facing impeachment by Congress on accusations of corruption.  The new President Martin Vizcarra has vowed to fight corruption.

At another intervention at the Human Rights Council, during the periodic review of Peru’s performance, Amnesty welcomed Peru’s acceptance of recommendations to guarantee the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to provide adequate healthcare and reparations to indigenous communities affected by extractive industries.  But it expressed concern at serious human rights setbacks in the country, including the consequences of the “pardon and grace” granted to ex-President Fujimori for victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations. 

Amnesty also expressed concern about the increase in adolescent pregnancy rates and sexual violence against girls and women.  It noted that abortion continues to be criminalized, including in cases of severe or fatal foetal impairment or sexual violence.  It welcomed Peru’s acceptance of recommendations to guarantee access to safe and legal abortion for survivors of sexual violence and to effectively investigate cases of forced sterilization and provide compensation to the victims.

There is still time to act on the Urgent Action about the threats against environmental defenders of the Chaparri Ecological Reserve by alleged land traffickers.


March was a busy month for our countries at the Human Rights Council as Argentina was also up for review.  While welcoming Argentina’s cooperation in the review, Amnesty regretted that Argentina had not accepted 13 important recommendations, among them recommendations to ensure Indigenous Peoples’ right to consultation and obtaining their free, prior and informed consent before proceeding with legal and administrative measures that may affect their rights.  But it welcomed Argentina’s acceptance of a recommendation to regulate and implement the demarcation of Indigenous lands, noting that there had been a significant increase in forestry and extractive projects, such as mega-mining, agribusiness and oil extraction located in Indigenous ancestral territories.

Amnesty valued the government’s announcement that it would allow Congress to discuss the decriminalization of abortion but expressed concern at the government’s rejection of all the review’s recommendations on this subject.  It also welcomed Argentina’s acceptance of recommendations to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the proportionate use of force by police during demonstrations.


On 5 April, Graham will accompany Becky Dallison from the AIUK office to a meeting with the Chilean Ambassador.  They will raise the case of Rodrigo Mundaca and MODATIMA, as well as wider human rights issues, especially those concerning Human Rights Defenders.


A 14-year-old rape victim has died during childbirth in Paraguay. Her baby is stable but relying on a breathing machine.  The girl, who has not been named, had been hospitalized for 20 days because of pregnancy complications when she went into labour.  A 37-year-old man has been arrested and charged with raping and impregnating the girl.  Abortion is forbidden in Paraguay unless giving birth threatens the life of the mother.

All the best.

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia), Joe Smith (Brazil), Graham Minter (Rest of South America).