South America Newsletter July 2018

We report on the change of government in Colombia and continued displacement of, and violence against, indigenous communities there. There is little sign of progress in investigating the murder of Marielle Franco in Brazil and more killings by security forces have occurred in a poor neighbourhood of Rio. An important step has been taken to decriminalise abortion in Argentina. In Chile, Amnesty have delivered a petition calling on the protection of Rodrigo Mundaca and his colleagues. The region’s Human Rights Court has questioned the pardon granted to former President Fujimori in Peru. Graham has visited the Paraguayan Embassy to discuss threats faced by Human Rights Defenders in Paraguay.


The conservative candidate, Ivan Duque, won the second round of the presidential elections and he will take office 7 August. He has opposed some of the political settlements with the FARC in the Peace Accord, but has also said that he would not ‘tear up the agreement’. He also wants to ensure that all former FARC rebels are brought to justice for violent crimes, which coincides with Amnesty International’s position.

More than 200 indigenous Nasa Embera Chamí from La Delfina reservation in Buenaventura have been displaced, following an armed attack on a member of their community on 8 June. They are in need of decisive security measures to protect them and access to humanitarian aid such as food, health services and shelter. To take action, you can download the Urgent Action here.

We would like to share with you the documentary “They’re killing us” by Tom Laffay, Emily Wright and Daniel Bustos Echeverry.  This documentary portrays the situation of social leaders and Human Rights Defenders in Northern Cauca. Although it is not endorsed by AI, you can use it for your work on behalf of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia.

Following the abduction of five people living in the Naya River area, Amnesty International calls on the authorities to ‘take immediate, effective and decisive action to guarantee the protection, safety and physical integrity of the Afro-descendant communities and Indigenous Peoples in the Naya area in the face of the alarming seizure of land by several armed groups. This action must be taken in consultation with the threatened communities.’

ABColombia reports that the Zenú Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Córdoba won an important court case against the ferronickel mining company Cerro Matoso S.A (owned by South32, listed on the London Stock Exchange) for the violation of their fundamental rights. The Constitutional Court found the company to be responsible for the pollution of air, water and soil, leading to numerous health complications for the communities.


We are pleased to welcome David Palmer as our new Brazil Coordinator.

Brazilian prosecutors must enlist specialist investigators to solve the killing of human rights defender Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, if there is to be any hope of bringing those responsible to justice, Amnesty International said. Three months on since her assassination, prosecutors are failing to deliver justice. The circumstances surrounding her murder suggest that it was committed by elements related to the security services.

25 June Amnesty Brazil stated (in Portuguese only) that the death of seven people killed by security forces shooting from helicopters flying over Maré (a poor neighbourhood in Rio) was ‘inadmissible’. One of those killed in the operation was a 14 year-old boy. Amnesty, with other NGOs, met with the police chief of Rio de Janeiro, who said he would share the report of the Homicide Division. The police are known to have previously fired from helicopters in 2012.

Telesur reports (in English) that the police, in only the state of Rio de Janeiro, killed 142 people in the month of May, a 46% increase on May 2017. The overall number of police/military police killings in Rio has doubled since 2016, according to a report published by the Intervention Observatory at Candido Mendes University. A commission of inquiry was established to do away with the classification of deaths being due to resisting arrest and a new law banning the practice was introduced in June 2016. The bill was, however, never approved by the country’s lawmakers.

Survival International reports that members of an Amazon tribe patrolling their rainforest reserve to protect uncontacted relatives from illegal loggers have seized a notorious logging gang, burned their truck, and expelled them from the jungle. The Guardian of the Amazon are from the Guajajara tribe: “We patrol, we find the loggers, we destroy their equipment and we send them away. We’ve stopped many loggers. It’s working.” Guardians operate in the absence of the Brazilian authorities. Several have been killed by logger gangs.


The Chamber of Deputies have approved a bill to decriminalize abortion.    Under the current legal framework, an abortion is deemed illegal unless there is a risk to the life or health of the woman, or in cases of rape. The bill, which has just been passed by the Chamber of Deputies, completely decriminalizes abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.  Amnesty has described this as “a fundamental step for the rights of women and people capable of conceiving, and a way of combating structural violence”. The bill will now go to the Senate.


Amnesty have delivered a petition to the Regional Attorney General in Valparaíso signed by more than 50,000 supporters in different countries around the world, calling on the Chilean authorities to provide effective measures for the protection of the human rights defenders Rodrigo Mundaca, Verónica Vilches and other members of the Movement for the Defence of Earth, Environmental Protection and Access to Water (MODATIMA). The petition also urges them to initiate prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into the threats and attacks against human rights defenders, to make the results public, and to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice. MODATIMA has worked for years to draw public attention to the impact of water policies on rural communities in Chile’s central Petorca Province, an area that has been seriously impacted by water scarcity.

Mapuche Indigenous spiritual leader Machi Celestino Córdova, imprisoned since 2014, has renewed his hunger strike after authorities continued to deny him access to his ceremonial altar. You can take action here.


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Peruvian courts must review whether the pardon granted to former President Alberto Fujimori constitutes an unnecessary and disproportionate impact on the right of access to justice of the victims of serious human rights violations in Barrios Altos and La Cantuta in 1992. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice found Fujimori guilty of the serious injury, murder and abduction of dozens of people carried out by his subordinates when he was Head of State. The Court identified these as crimes against humanity and sentenced Fujimori to 25 years’ imprisonment. Amnesty said that the Inter-American Court’s ruling set a historic precedent for human rights.


On 15 June, Graham called on the Deputy Head of Mission, Blas Felip, at the Paraguayan Embassy in London, Blas Felip, to discuss Amnesty’s recent report on the threats to Human Rights Defenders in Paraguay and Peru. Blas Felip said that the Paraguayan Government were conscious of the need to address the issues identified in the report and were already taking steps in this direction.

All the best,

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