South America Newsletter April 2019

Dear Friends,

This month there is a petition regarding Venezuela, two Urgent Actions relating to Argentina and Paraguay together with an alert for a future Urgent Action relating to Bolivia. Killings of HRDs in Colombia continue to rise and the President of Colombia refuses to sign an important Bill. We have news on Indigenous rights in Colombia,  Brazil and Paraguay,  an update on the Marielle Franco case (Brazil) and criminal proceedings against two journalists in Peru.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported to the Human Rights Council on the human rights crisis in Venezuela.  Amnesty welcomed the commitment to stand by the victims of the crisis in their fight for truth, justice and reparation.  Given the scale and gravity of the crisis, and the severe obstacles to justice in Venezuela, Amnesty has urged the UN Human Rights Council to create a Commission of Inquiry to monitor and report on the situation and to clarify responsibility for crimes under international law and gross human rights violations.  You can still sign the petition here.

Luis Carlos Díaz, a Venezuelan journalist and defender of digital rights and freedom of expression, was arrested in Caracas on 11 March by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service and accused of alleged “cyber-crimes”.  Amnesty has declared him a prisoner of conscience, detained solely because of his widely respected work covering the Venezuelan people’s demands to live in dignity in their country and for his denunciations of the authorities’ response to the crisis.  Amnesty has demanded his immediate and unconditional release. 

An accumulation of grievances, aggressions against indigenous leaders and the rupture of talks with the Government have led the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC) to call for an indefinite national mobilisation with a five-point platform:

  • In defence of the rights to life, peace and human rights.
  • In defence of land rights
  • In defence of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights
  • Unfulfilled agreements by the government with the social movement in Colombia
  • To enforce compliance with the 2018-2022 Development Plan

Indigenous Colombians protesting in March 2019

          The uprising includes 15,000 Indigenous protestors, who have blocked the Pan-American Highway for the last 17 days. Colombia has not seen such a concerted anti-government campaign by its indigenous citizens since 2008.

The Colombian NGO Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) report that 32 human rights defenders were killed in the 3rd quarter of 2018, an increase of 14 (77%) on the same period for 2017. As in previous quarters, most victims were community and environmental leaders in rural areas. 6 were women, 3 indigenous and one Afro-descendant. Of the 128 aggressions reported against HRDs, 59% came from paramilitaries, 5% by the Armed Forces and 2% by the guerrillas. The remainder are unknown. You can download the report in Spanish here

President Duque has refused to sign a bill, approved by Congress and the Constitutional Court, to provide the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) with a statutory law. The JEP was created to ensure justice for the victims of the conflict within the framework of the principles of truth, reparation and non-repetition. The following day the UN’s Verification Mission to Colombia stated ‘It is regrettable that, more than two years after the signing of the Final Agreement, the JEP still does not have a Statutory Law, a solid legal framework that guarantees its operation in full exercise of autonomy and independence, key principles that the UN, through the Security Council, has repeatedly indicated as indispensable. We fully expect that the JEP will receive, from all the country’s authorities, the political and practical support for its functioning. This support will determine, to a large extent, whether victims’ rights are placed at the centre of peacebuilding.’ In a further twist, the JEP has announced it is investigating 40 of its own prosecutors for corruption.

27 March the UK NGO Justice For Colombia reports that two farmers were murdered and 500 families displaced by paramilitaries in northern Colombia. ‘Paramilitaries in Córdoba are targeting people working in voluntary substitution programmes to replace coca plantations with legal crops, one of the core components of the 2016 peace agreement.’ According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, almost 7,000 people have been forcibly displaced in Colombia since the beginning of the year. 6.5 million Colombians have been forcibly displaced since the beginning of the conflict.


 In recent years, Argentina has been implementing a shift in its migration policy. Through policy and practice, the government is taking measures that restrict the rights of migrants, as well as refugees and asylum seekers, and encourage discrimination and xenophobia.  Vanessa Gómez Cueva, a Peruvian citizen with residence status in Argentina for over 15 years, was deported in February along with her two-year-old Argentinean son. She was forced to leave behind her two other children (aged 5 and 14), who are also Argentinean. She was not allowed to say goodbye. The deportation order was based on a criminal conviction, for which Vanessa had served a sentence in 2014.

Please call on the National Migrations Office to reverse this order, which violates the rights of the children under national and international law, and reunite Vanessa and her children.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Argentine government to withdraw its request to investigate a judge who is looking into allegations of surveillance and extortion that could implicate government allies, as this could undermine judicial independence.

Federal investigative Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla had testified before a Congressional commission about an investigation into allegations that intelligence agents carried out illegal operations. Two days later, the Justice Minister asked the Judiciary Council to open an investigation into his performance, contending that he had carried out his investigation in a “political and journalistic way” and “failed to comply with his duties regarding impartiality and secrecy” of the investigation.


Amnesty has expressed its concern over criminal proceedings undertaken against two journalists, Paola Ugaz and Pedro Salinas, following defamation complaints filed by the Archbishop of Piura y Tumbes.  Amnesty is concerned that the criminal complaints may have been aimed at inhibiting criticism of public figures like the Archbishop and has called on the Peruvian authorities to ensure that the complaints are not used to prevent and punish criticism of religious leaders.


On 17 March, police and immigration officers arbitrarily detained 14 Venezuelan refugees (three women and 11 men) at a shelter in La Paz.  The detainees had participated in a peaceful demonstration at the Cuban Embassy against human rights violations in Venezuela.  That same day, six of them were arbitrarily deported to Peru.  Please look out for a forthcoming Urgent Action urging the Minister of Government to stop persecuting and arbitrarily deporting Venezuelan refugees in need of international protection.


There is still time to act in support of the Ysati indigenous community, who had their crops and six houses burned down and 55 people, including 38 children, displaced because of the violence. Community members are afraid that new attacks could take place and they are forced to flee. Please urge the Attorney General to launch an immediate investigation into the attacks and to bring those responsible to justice.


On March 12, Brazilian authorities arrested two men suspected of criminal responsibility for the murder of Marielle Franco.  An Amnesty International press release  quotes  Amnesty International’s America’s Director, who stated:  “These arrests are the first sign of progress in an investigation that has barely moved in the year since the killings.”

 A press release   from the IACHR  reports that experts from the UN and the IACHR  have stated: the killing of Marielle Franco is an attack on the heart of a democratic society and an emblematic case of the threats faced by human rights defenders in Brazil.”

An article from  reports that:  the New Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque announced on 4 March that he plans to permit mining on indigenous lands in Brazil, including within the Amazon.  The Bolsonaro administration’s indigenous mining plan is in direct opposition to indigenous land rights as guaranteed under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution.

Mining companies stand ready to move into indigenous reserves, if the measure goes forward. Brazil’s mining ministry has received 4,073 requests from mining companies and individuals for mining-related activities on indigenous land. Indigenous groups are outraged and they plan to resist in the courts and by whatever means possible.

 Amazon  Watch  reports  in   an   article dated 19 March  that Sonia Guajajara , one of Brazil’s best known indigenous leaders has stated that indigenous people are the first ones to be affected by climate change. She states:  we are  seeing floods that last longer, we’re seeing droughts that are longer, we’re seeing a reduction in fish with the drying out, and it affects our food security and culture.

All the best,

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia), David Palmer (Brazil) and Graham Minter (rest of South America).