South America Newsletter July 2021

This month, we update you on developments in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela,and Chile.
Amnesty International reviews the victims of excessive use of force by Colombia’s security services during the National Strike and analyses the killing of 199 Human Rights Defenders in 2020, a new record. We report on the high death rate from Covid-19 among the indigenous community in Brazil, as well as extrajudicial killings and political developments in the country. We have a new Urgent Action on Venezuela and reports on the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses there. A Mapuche leader, Elisa Locon, has been elected to lead the drafting of the new constitution in Chile, and we cover allegations of human rights abuses by Chile’s national police force.


Demonstrators in Cali during the National Strike
1. National Strike – excessive use of force by the security services
Amnesty International reports on the victims of excessive use of force by Colombia’s security services during the National Strike. Between 28 April and 2 June there had been 76 homicides, 34 of which were allegedly caused by the actions of the security forces in the context of the demonstrations. 988 people sustained injuries as a result of the excessive use of force by riot police; 74 of those wounded had eye injuries. There have been 151 attacks against human rights defenders in the context of demonstrations. At the end of a month of mobilizations, the Working Group on Forced Disappearances had recorded 775 people feared disappeared, the whereabouts of 327 of whom remain unknown.
Amnesty adds: ‘The statements of President Duque and other high-ranking officials about the alleged “terrorist purposes” of the peaceful marches must stop. The militarized response to the protests in Colombia, provided for by Decree 575, issued on 28 May, is in breach of Colombia’s international human rights obligations.’
According to The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) 102 journalists were assaulted, 45 threatened, 14 had their equipment seized, 17 harassed, and 11 illegally detained by the security forces during the strike.

Human Right Watch calls on the Colombian authorities ‘to protect human rights, initiate a comprehensive police reform effort to ensure that officers respect the right of peaceful assembly, and bring those responsible for abuses to justice.’ British police officers have been training the Colombian police for 15 years.
Colombia Peace Monitoring notes that while the organisations that convoked the National Strike are now working with Congressmen on a raft of bills and have called for an end to the strike, groups of mostly young people continued to take to the streets in Bogotá’s poorer southern neighbourhoods, in “resistance” sites around Cali, and in Medellín, Bucaramanga, Pasto, and Popayán. While demonstrations and blockades were mostly peaceful, violence between police and protesters broke out several times during the week.

2. Human Rights Defenders under threat
Programa Somos Defensores (‘We are Defenders Programme) reports that despite Covid-19 lockdowns last year 60% more human rights defenders were killed (199) in 2020 than in 2019, when the overall number of homicides declined by 7% in Colombia.
More HRDs were killed in 2020 – 199 – than in any year since records began.
25 were women and 174 men. Social leaders in rural areas distant from the centre of the state, and therefore invisible, are the principal victims of the violence. They are the community, campesino (field-worker), indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders. These communities are vulnerable to the armed groups who roam the territory and are principally financed by the drug trade and illicit mining. Conflict with these largely isolated communities is often over land rights, coca and marijuana cultivation and recruitment of boys and girls into their ranks.
Activity of victims
Number killed in 2020
Community Leaders  91
Indigenous Leaders  41
Campesino (field-workers) leaders  29
Afro-descendant leaders  11
Environmental leaders 7
Union leaders 6
LGBTI Leaders 5
Other leaders 9
Very few of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. From the Prosecutors’ Office’s own data, Somos Defensores reckons only 0.2% of all threats against HRDs have been officially clarified between January 2015 and February 2021. Of the 2,962 cases investigated by the public prosecutor only 6 have resulted in a conviction.
Amnesty International continues with its action on behalf of Human Right Defenders. Please sign the petition to Congress to ensure that they are protected.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that the number of mass displacements between January and May 2021 has doubled since the same period last year. 80% of the forced displacements are the result of communities fleeing their homes following threats or armed attacks from non-state actors.


According to the indigenous organisation APIB, indigenous Brazilians are 68% more likely to catch Covid-19 and their mortality rate is 58% higher than for the rest of the country. According to official counts, 523,000 Brazilians have died from Covid-19 as of 3 July.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has written an open letter to President Bolsonaro  to express our concern over chronic police abuse in Rio de Janeiro state, your dissolution of the Group of Specialized Action in Public Security (GAESP) within the Prosecutor’s Office and the resulting impact on holding law enforcement officials responsible for abuses to account.’ This follows the killing of 27 people by police in the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro last month. The President congratulated the police on the operation. The police have killed 17,000 people in the State of Rio since 2003.

The Guardian reports that protesters have gathered in Brazil’s major cities to demand the impeachment of President Bolsonaro, following allegations that his government had sought to illegally profit from the sale of vaccines for Covid-19. The next presidential election will take place 22 October 2022.

On 22 June, heavily armed police used tear gas and rubber bullets on a peaceful demonstration of indigenous groups in Brazilia to protest a new bill that will reduce their claim to land rights. Two of the demonstrators were hospitalised with serious injuries and at least a dozen others were treated for minor injuries.


New Urgent Action on Venezuela:

Venezuelan defenders under arrest Javier Tarazona, Director of local NGO Fundaredes, Rafael Tarazona and Omar de Dios García, Fundaredes’ activists were arbitrarily detained on 2 July 2021 after attempting to report harassment from security officers at the Attorney General’s Office in the city of Coro (West). Amnesty International has issued a new Urgent Action to release them immediately and close all criminal investigations against them.

Refugees day. Venezuela suffers a major humanitarian crisis
People continue to leave Venezuela to escape violence, insecurity and threats as well as lack of food, medicine and essential services. One in three Venezuelans is food insecure and 30 percent of children suffer from malnutrition. More than five million people have fled the country since 2014, marking it the second worst displacement crisis in the world.

New report on Venezuela from UNHCHR
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has pointed out that the Venezuelan government continues to apply systematic abuse and torture, particularly to political opponents. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continued to receive credible reports of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

EU reaffirms support to refugees and migrants at International Donors’ Conference
The International Conference of Donors in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants and the European Commission pledged to support humanitarian assistance in Assistance through the Foreign Policy Instrument and Development cooperation. The conference was hosted by the Canadian Government in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.


Elisa Loncon, a Mapuche leader, has been elected President of the Constituent Assembly, which is set to draft a new Constitution. This is the result of a process that started with the protests in Chile in 2019, in which 34 people were killed during the demonstrations. The national police force, known as the Carabineros, have also been accused of torturing and blinding protester with excessive use of force. The newly elected Constituent Assembly will draft a new constitution, a first step to leave behind Pinochet’s legacy. You can read more about it here.

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia and Brazil), Carla Torres (Chile and Argentina), Javier Martinez (Venezuela) and Graham Minter (rest of South America). And please don’t forget that you can follow us on our Facebook page and Twitter.