South America Newsletter July 2017


In this month’s newsletter (from the South American Team of Graham Minter and Richard Crosfield), we report on the recent visit to the UK of Esperanza Huayama, a leading campaigner for justice for the thousands of indigenous women submitted to forced sterilisation in Peru in the 1990s.   We report further on the crisis in Venezuela where 80 people have been killed in anti-government protests in the last three months and the Attorney General has been banned from leaving the country.  There is good news on the peace process in Colombia but major challenges remain as threats to communities continue.  Brazil remains in turmoil and we highlight reports on police killings, violence against women and attacks against human rights defenders.  In Chile we have a new Individuals At Risk case (Rodrigo Mundaca) that you can opt into and there are concerns that the law partially decriminalising abortion may be watered down.  In Paraguay, President Cartes has threatened two journalists with imprisonment.


In June we were delighted to co-host, with the University of Kent and the Peru Support Group, the visit to the UK of Esperanza Huayama, President of the Association of Forcibly Sterilised Women in the province of Huancabamba and Vice-President of the National Association.  The programme included an event at the Human Rights Action Centre (photo), where we presented a documentary on the subject and heard from Esperanza about her own experience and her work to campaign for justice.  We also accompanied Esperanza to meetings at parliament, the FCO, CAFOD and Equality Now.  For a fuller report, see here.


At least 80 people have been killed in anti-Government protests in the last three months.  Amnesty has warned that “the increased deployment of military forces to repress protests, the rise in excessive use of force against protesters and others, and the use of military courts to try to silence dissenting voices illustrates a terrifying shift of the Venezuelan authorities’ approach to the human rights crisis wreaking havoc across the country”. For a fuller report, see here.

The Attorney-General, Luisa Ortega  Díaz, has asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for protection, after the Supreme Court barred her from leaving the country and ordered her bank accounts to be frozen.  Ortega  Díaz’s office had just announced that it was summoning the chief of Venezuela’s intelligence agency, Gustavo Gonzalez, to appear before them on suspicion of “committing grave and systemic violations of human rights”.  Ortega  Díaz, one of the few critical voices in the current government, had earlier contested a Supreme Court decision that would have dissolved the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the decision that sparked the current wave of protests.


Good news! The FARC rebels have handed over more than 7,000 guns and on 27 June the UN has declared that they have complied with the peace agreement. There remain serious challenges to the peace process. Members of the FARC must be integrated into society and found work, while the political accords, including holding responsible the perpetrators of HR violations and the compensation of victims, have yet to be implemented. For the Guardian‘s report read here.

In another positive move, the ELN (National Liberation Army) says it will free two Dutch journalists it seized 17 June. Peace negotiations with the Colombian authorities have been stymied by repeated violent acts by ELN rebels.

However, reports from the Peace Community of San Jose Apartado illustrate the continuing threats rural communities face from paramilitaries. The Peace Community report that paramilitaries harassed and threatened its members on five incursions between 17 and 28 June.

Human Rights Watch report on the ongoing fighting between the ELN rebels and paramilitaries in the valley of the San Juan river near Buenaventura. This has forced the displacement of thousands of people and the death of others in recent years. Please click here for the full report.

2 June Amnesty asked the Colombian government to “halt its excessive use of force against protesters taking part in the general strike in Buenaventura. Instead of trying to silence the communities of Buenaventura, the Colombian authorities should protect residents and focus on responding to their demands given the critical levels of violence and exclusion suffered by the people who live in Colombia’s Pacific region.” You can read the full statement here. The good news is that the general strike was called off 6 June as negotiations with the government got under way. However, the situation remains tense in Colombia’s largest port. Thanks to all of you who wrote to the authorities on behalf of the protestors.

The Colombian NGO Fundación Paz & Reconciliación has just published a map of Colombia summarising the state of popular consultations on the large mining and energy sectors in the economy. These sectors have been a focus of disputes and human rights violations, including the assassination of Human Rights Defenders, for many years. The NGO has argued that such consultations are necessary to reduce tensions in these areas.


Amnesty reports that “a damning ruling issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights exposes a gruesome history of rapes and killings by police in Rio de Janeiro; particularly of young, black and poor individuals”. This judgement shines a long overdue light on the appalling human rights violations perpetrated by Rio’s police force against young, poor, black individuals who were unarmed.” Read the full statement here.

Human Rights Watch reports on the very high rate of killings of women in the state of Roraima, Brazil. The government’s response is ‘grossly inadequate’ according to HRW. Police turn away women who complain of domestic violence and protection is inadequate. Although legislation has established a legal framework to curb domestic violence, it is failing to put it into practice. Please see the report here.

The Guardian reports that Ladio Veron, leader of Brazil’s indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá people, is touring Europe and making a desperate international appeal to halt attacks and killings, land theft and environmental destruction that his people say have become a hallmark of Brazil’s Temer administration. The Guarani-Kaiowá is fighting for recognition of their indigenous land rights in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in southwest Brazil, bordering Paraguay. After decades of violent territorial disputes with cattle ranchers, soy and sugar cane farmers, Veron hopes to galvanize support and build an international network of allies that will put pressure on Temer and the agribusiness lobby-dominated National Congress back home. For the full article, click here.

Meanwhile, Michel Temer, who took over the Presidency of Brazil last year after the impeachment of Dilma Roussef last year, has been charged for corruption by the Attorney General. The Supreme Court has sent this case to Congress, where it requires a two-thirds vote to proceed. The President’s approval rating has fallen to 7% and he faces defections from members of his own party in Congress. President Temer has denied the charges.


The proposed law aimed at decriminalizing abortion under specific circumstances in Chile is facing possible amendments that would further restrict access to legal abortion and related sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls, putting their lives and well-being at risk.  You can support our Urgent Action here.

We have a new Individuals At Risk case – Rodrigo Mundaca from Chile.  Rodrigo is a member of the Movement for the Defence of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection in a province in central Chile that has been seriously impacted by water scarcity.  He has been subjected to death threats, physical attacks and criminal charges as a result of his work.  He will feature prominently in Amnesty UK’s recently-launched Human Rights Defenders campaign.  If you want to opt in to our efforts to protect Rodrigo and his colleagues, please let me know.


Two Paraguayan journalists, Menchi Barriocanal and Oscar Acosta, were threatened  with imprisonment by president Horacio Cartes during his participation in a rally in Ciudad del Este, where he falsely accused them of inciting violence during demonstrations that took place in March.  You can support our Urgent Action here.