South America Newsletter August 2017


In this month’s newsletter (from the South American Team of Graham Minter and Richard Crosfield), we have good news from Chile on the decriminalisation of abortion, urgent actions on Venezuela and Colombia, and details of Amnesty’s short campaign on the crisis in Venezuela, where more than 100 people have been killed since April. In Colombia the challenges facing the peace agreement are revealed, while our Americas Director writes a piece on the Peace Community. Two new reports on the Zika virus and domestic violence in Brazil highlight the failure of the authorities to uphold women’s rights. In Peru we report on the harassment of environmental rights defenders and the UN’s concern at the number of social conflicts related to large-scale business operations. Ahead of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review on human rights in Argentina, Amnesty highlights Argentina’s shortcomings.


Controversial elections for a new Constituent Assembly took place on 30 July.  The Assembly will have the power to rewrite the country’s constitution. Ahead of the elections, the government imposed a ban on protests and announced the deployment of military personnel and experts to deal with electoral and military crimes. However, this did not stop the protests and it is reported that at least 10 people died in a series of clashes with police. Since the latest wave of protests began in April, more than 100 people have been killed and more than 1,400 injured, according to official sources. This news report contains a series of graphic images of the protests.

As already reported, Amnesty has launched a short campaign aimed at conveying a clear message to senior Venezuelan Government figures that if they promote or implement a policy of illegal use of force, they may be subject to prosecution under international criminal justice. Amnesty considers that the recurrent attacks against the population and speeches inciting violence by the authorities indicate a premeditated policy of violent repression of any form of dissent. See Amnesty statement here.

The British Foreign Secretary has issued a statement on the situation, calling on the Venezuelan Government to refrain from divisive and inflammatory action.  You can read it here.

Human Rights Watch have released disturbing video footage of the clashes, which you can see here.

Amnesty has issued an Urgent Action concerning 14 police officers who have been arbitrarily detained for politically motivated reasons since June 2016 despite a court order that they should be released. They are on hunger strike to demand that the authorities execute the release warrant. You can call for their release here.

Leopoldo López, who had been transferred from prison to his home, has been arrested and returned to prison. The Foreign Secretary has demanded his release.  [update 6.08.17, CNN report that Leopoldo, our Case File, was returned to house arrest yesterday] 


Amnesty has issued an urgent action on behalf of the Wounaan indigenous community in the department of Chocó . An armed confrontation was reported between the Colombian Naval Infantry and an illegal armed group, a few metres from the Wounaan Indigenous community. Out of fear of facing further violence, this community of 900 Wounaan Indigenous people have found themselves in a situation of forced confinement. Community members reported the events to the relevant authorities and requested protection measures and emergency humanitarian aid. In addition to these clashes, the planting of anti-personnel mines in land near Indigenous communities in the department has been reported. A Wounaan resident was seriously wounded in his right leg due to the explosion of an anti-personnel mine. The planting of mines is a tactic used by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in order to stop the advance of paramilitary groups in the area. Please respond to the UA, which you can download here

Amnesty’s Americas Director has written an opinion piece on “The Peace that doesn’t reach San José de Apartadó.” One resident of the community, which is an AIUK casefile, told Amnesty International, “We are very afraid. We see the same pattern of 10 years ago, immediately before the massacre”. AI calls on the authorities to recognise the multiple forms of violence suffered by the Peace Community and to take the necessary action to secure their safety. The Spanish text (English is not yet available) is here.

The Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation has published two maps of Colombia showing where paramilitaries have replaced the FARC and where dissident FARC rebel groups still hold out. Paramilitary incursions into former FARC rebel territory are immense in scale, while dissident FARC rebel commands are still significant. These two maps illustrate the daunting challenge of implementing the peace accord between the government and the FARC. You can see the maps here.

The UK’s Foreign Office has released its latest report on Colombia and Human Rights here. The UK’s priorities are Human Rights Defenders, Prevent Sexual Violence Initiative, and Business and Human Rights. We are in frequent touch with the FCO and embassy in Bogota.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a new report on the effect of the Zika virus on women and girls in Brazil. They found that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil disproportionately affected women and girls and aggravated longstanding human rights problems, including inadequate access to water and sanitation, racial and socioeconomic health disparities, and restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights. HRW calls on federal, state and local authorities to work together to reduce the number of Zika infections and to provide advice to pregnant women and help to mothers of children born with the Zika syndrome. You can read the report here.

HRW has also reported on impunity on domestic violence in the state of Roraima. “Roraima is the deadliest state for women and girls in Brazil. Killings of women rose 139 percent from 2010 to 2015, reaching 11.4 homicides per 100,000 women that year, the latest for which there is data available. The national average is 4.4 killings per 100,000 women—already one of the highest in the world.” HRW calls on the authorities in Brazil as a whole “to reduce barriers for women in accessing police and ensure that domestic violence cases are properly documented at the time women report them, and then investigated and prosecuted. Authorities need to allocate more resources to training and investigation—and discipline police officers who fail to carry out their duties.” Click here for the full report.


Good news!  The Chilean Senate has passed a bill to decriminalize abortion under three circumstances: when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, and in cases of lethal foetal impairment. The bill has now passed back to the Chamber of Deputies to take the necessary steps for the bill to become law.  You can read Amnesty’s latest statement on the subject here.


Following a visit to Peru, a United Nations Working Group has raised its concern about the high number of social conflicts related to large-scale business operations and noted that the majority of cases concern protests by local communities against adverse impacts caused by operations in the mining, hydrocarbon and energy sectors. You can read the full statement here.

Amnesty has reported its concern at the improper use of the justice system to harass and silence the work of environmental rights defenders in Peru. Several environmental rights defenders are facing prosecution for their work and for their involvement in the May 2012 protests to demand amendment of the commitments made to the peasant communities as a result of the operations of the Tintaya copper mine. For further details, see here.

The United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Peru’s human rights performance will take place in November. In its submission to the review, Amnesty expresses its concerns about weaknesses in the functioning of Peru’s Ombudsperson, its outstanding ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its inadequate legislation to protect Indigenous Peoples’ right to land. Amnesty also raises concerns about impunity for past human rights violations, obstacles in the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights, persistent discrimination against LGBTI persons, violent repression of social protests by the security forces, and attacks against human rights defenders. You can read the full submission here.


Argentina’s human rights performance will also be subjected to a United Nations Universal Periodic Review in November. In its submission to this review, Amnesty expresses its concerns about the regressive policies adopted by Argentina on migrants’ rights, its continued criminalization of abortion and shortcomings in its national human rights institution. Amnesty also raises concerns about the threats of detention of irregular migrants, obstacles in accessing legal abortion, violence against women, violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and increased criminalization of Indigenous leaders and human rights defenders, restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and impunity for past crimes. You can read the full submission here.