South America Newsletter December 2018

This month there is good news from  Chile regarding the passing of a gender identity law  and four former police officers being arrested regarding a fatal shooting. Moreover, in Guyana  transgender activists are celebrating a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice. There is also a reminder regarding the opportunity to continue to work on two South American Write for Rights cases at the conclusion of the campaign. A submission has also been made to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

This newsletter also includes concerns  expressed by a  Special Rapporteur in relation to Ecuador and another  Special Rapporteur has urged the authorities  in Paraguay to discontinue a particular prosecution. There are statements issued by Amnesty  regarding the  situation in Colombia and  further reports regarding the large number of human rights defenders killed and the number of displacements in that country.

In relation to Brazil,  we  report  on the concerns of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights after its recent visit.  There is also an urgent action.  The call by Amnesty to the Argentinian authorities regarding  predicted demonstrations coinciding with the G20 summit and some positive news on  Venezuela’s health crisis are also reported.


Amnesty issued a statement two years on from the Peace Accord with the FARC rebels, noting how little of the accord has been fulfilled for the rural communities which have suffered most from the conflict.

‘Entrenched political forces representing private interests in the Congress continue to defend the status quo and seek to shield high-ranking officers in the military from accountability for their involvement in serious human rights violations.

The deficit is clear. People defending human rights in their territories continue to be killed. At the same time, more people are becoming victims of forced displacement, as is the case of the more than 1,000 people driven from their lands in Catatumbo by fighting between the ELN and the EPL guerrilla groups and the lack of an effective state response. Paramilitary groups continue, as before, to operate with total impunity.’

 In another statement, Amnesty denounced the authorities for prohibiting some 500 member of indigenous communities from entering the Plaza de Bolivar to stage their protest. ‘The Colombian authorities must fulfil their obligation to implement the Peace Agreement and guarantee the rights to life and physical integrity of Indigenous Peoples and ensure the protection of their territories. The national and Bogotá city authorities must guarantee the right to demonstrate peacefully in Plaza de Bolívar, without repression and without restrictions. It is shameful that the authorities have sought to block their own people from entering the capital, restricting their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.’

The Colombian NGO Somos Defensores (We are Defenders) reports that in the last nine years 563 human rights defenders and community leaders have been killed – but in only 48 cases have the courts condemned the perpetrators.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has reported that 139,000 people were forcibly displaced in Colombia in 2017, bringing the total number of people now displaced in Colombia to 6.5 million. While recognising the importance of the Peace Accord, the Centre notes that ‘obstacles to durable solutions remain, and include victims’ compensation, land and property restitution, as well as implementation of the different points agreed upon in the peace deal related to issues such as integral agricultural reform, trust, justice, reparation and non-repetition.’


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Preliminary Observations Report  on its visit to Brazil from  5-12 November 2018 contains information regarding the following urgent matters: repeated violations of the rights of indigenous people, the social exclusion of the homeless, the prison population and their rights to access  healthcare, dignified sanitary conditions and receiving private visits in appropriate locations.

Further urgent matters reported are: institutional violence and impunity, constant attacks on human rights defenders, violations of rights and hate speech towards migrants and asylum seekers, and attacks on the freedom of expression.

It should also be noted that the IACHR received reports from an indigenous community in Pará of coercion, threats and attempts to intimidate them as they exercise their right to defend their rights. It should also be noted that the IACHR stated that it was also the direct target of harassment in the area.

During the week of the IACHR’s visit to Brazil, it identified an incident that needs to be rigorously investigated by the authorities, namely the death of 11 members of a criminal group who took part in an assault on a bank in Santana do Ipanema at the hands of the Alagoas police force. No police officers were injured. The IACHR asks the authorities to be alert to signs of extrajudicial execution and hopes that these circumstances will be clarified swiftly. It recommended that the Brazilian state expand the mechanisms it uses to monitor police activity to ensure that they act within a framework of respect for the proportional use of force.

Urgent Action

On 6 November five people were killed and at least eight others were injured during a police operation by the   Special Operations Battalion (BOPE)  in the favela Nova Holanda, in the Maré Complex, north of Rio de Janeiro. The  BOPE operation contravened a Justice Order of 2017, still in force, by which night police operations in the Maré Complex were prohibited.  This case is subject of an urgent action, which is available on the Amnesty International Brazil website/

Police Operation Results in Five Dead in Rio de Janeiro

The text is in Portuguese but can usually be translated to English by clicking  the translate button, which should appear if you hover the mouse at the top of the Amnesty International Brazil webpage.

The urgent action calls for the responsible authorities to: conduct a prompt, impartial, speedy and independent investigation  and that those responsible be brought to justice by a fair trial; that police operations are not to be  carried out during the night, during school hours, or at times when people are most at large; and  publicly to  reject the excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions by police officers, reinforcing the importance of life preservation. This action can be taken by clicking on   URGENT ACTION: Police operation results in 5 dead in Rio de Janeiro  or the Portuguese equivalent if not translated: AÇÃO URGENTE: Operação policial resulta em 5 mortos no Rio de Janeiro  .


With an eye on the predicted demonstrations during the G20 meetings in Buenos Aires, Amnesty called on the Argentine authorities to respect and guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and on the security forces to abide strictly by international standards on the use of force.  The reports we have seen so far indicate that tens of thousands have demonstrated peacefully amid tight security which kept the demonstrators well away from the summit participants.


There are reports that President Maduro has finally asked the United Nations for help to purchase medical equipment to address the country’s serious health crisis, although days earlier, the main public hospital in Caracas rejected medicines and supplies donated by the non-governmental humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders.

The focus on human rights violations linked to the political and economic crisis in Venezuela should not obscure the fact that defenders of indigenous territorial and environmental rights in the country also face threats similar to those faced elsewhere in the region, as this article makes clear.


Chile has passed a Gender Identity Law which allows transgender people over the age of 14 to update their names on legal documents and guarantees their right to be officially addressed according to their true gender.  The law has been described as “a milestone for LGBTQ rights in Chile and in South America”.

Four former police officers have been arrested over the fatal shooting of a young indigenous man in the southern region of Araucania.  The killing of Camilo Catrillanca, the 24-year-old grandson of a prominent Mapuche indigenous leader, led to massive street protests and calls for the disbandment of the “Jungle Commandos”, a heavily armed tactical unit of the national police force.


The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has expressed serious concern about threats to indigenous communities posed by the possibility of new oil-drilling in the Amazon.  At the end of an 11-day fact-finding mission, she said that excluding indigenous Ecuadoreans from the country’s development plans had made their rights “invisible”.


The UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, has urged the Paraguayan authorities to drop the prosecution of three Supreme Court judges which, he said, undermined the independence of the judiciary.  The judges are being tried for acquitting 11 peasant farmers jailed over the deaths of police officers during a violent eviction in Curuguaty in 2012.


Transgender activists are celebrating a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice to overturn an archaic law in Guyana that made it a criminal offence for a man (or woman) to dress “for an improper purpose” in clothes typically used by the opposite gender.  Transgender activists began their campaign against the law in earnest after four Guyanese transgender women were arrested and taken to court in 2009 and fined under the law.


Two South American Women Human Rights Defenders are featured in Amnesty’s 2018 Write for Rights Campaign: Marielle Franco, killed in Brazil for defending the rights of women, black, LGBTI and other marginalised people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Geraldine Chacón, persecuted in Venezuela for her work to empower young people in deprived areas of Caracas.  You can support the campaign by clicking on their names above.  We have written to local groups inviting them to volunteer to continue to work on these two cases once the campaign is over.  Thank you to those who have already replied.

The UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee have launched an enquiry on Global Britain and South America.  We have sent a written response to their request for evidence.  We shall be able to release our response publicly once the Committee have published their report.

Thanks to all of you who have responded to Amnesty’s urgent actions and petitions in the region.

All the best,

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