South America Newsletter June 2017

The latest newsletter from the South America Team at AIUK – Richard Crosfield (Colombia), Graham Minter (Rest of South America) – we expect to have a new Brazil Coordinator onboard shortly:-

“This month we report on the critical situation in Venezuela, the wide range of human rights concerns and an update on the peace process in Colombia, and recent events in Chile, Peru and Brazil. We have good news from Peru, where all charges have been dropped against Máxima Acuña Atalaya; many thanks to all of you who have written on her behalf.

You are invited to an event at AIUK’s HRAC on 21 June, where the subject will be the massive forced sterilisation programme in Peru and its consequences 1996-1998.  You can take action by responding to the 3 UAs for Venezuela, another UA for Colombia and there’s a petition to sign on Brazil.


venezuelaAmnesty has issued a statement that the use of military courts to try civilians in Venezuela undermines the rule of law in the country, violating the Venezuelan constitution and international laws. According to official data, more than 250 people are currently deprived of their liberty and were brought before military judges and prosecutors. They were all prosecuted under military jurisdiction for crimes such as “association with intent to incite rebellion” and “attacking a sentinel”.  More information here.

There are reports that the leader of the opposition Henrique Capriles was blocked from leaving the country for a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  A UN spokesperson said that the rising tensions in Venezuela were very alarming and incidents such as this were unlikely to help reduce tensions.  According to the latest figures, there have been 42 deaths in the context of the protests.

Leopoldo López

Leopoldo López

There is still time to act on three Venezuela Urgent Actions sent out in May. The first (here) responds to an incident when authorities forcibly searched the home of human rights defender EhislerVásquez and prosecutors threatened to indict him when he requested information on the reason for the search. This potential criminalization would put his work to defend human rights at risk. The second (here) concerns Leopoldo López, who has been allowed no access to his lawyers since 8 April, violating his right to a defence. The third (here) relates to an incident in which unidentified persons broke into the residence of human rights defenders Yonaide Sánchez and Nelson Freitez. There is concern that this was an attempt to stop the legitimate activism that they both carry out for human rights.

  • Leopoldo Lopez is one of our Case Files – see Take Action for some letters you can edit and print


As the general strike in the port city of Buenaventura enters its 17th day,  Amnesty calls for the Colombian authorities to protect its citizens in Buenaventura and concentrate on resolving their demands in the critical situation of violence and exclusion that they are suffering instead of trying to silence them. Two major issues have generated the civil unrest in Buenaventura, which is mostly populated by Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities: the city has long been systematically abandoned by the state (resulting in 80% of the population living in poverty, and a generalized lack of access to fundamental human rights), and a high level of violence due to the presence of several rival actors (drug traffickers, criminal gangs, and other armed groups including guerrillas). Please take action by responding to the Urgent Action you can download here.

In a decision announced on May 17, Colombia’s Constitutional Court appears to have dealt a severe blow to implementation of the FARC peace accord, reports Colombia Peace. The magistrates did away with key parts of “fast track,” the special legislative authority the Court approved last December to allow swift passage of laws to enact the November 2016 peace accord’s commitments. Without “fast track”, Congress can interpret the accord as it wishes and unilaterally modify the terms of the agreement with the FARC, thereby jeopardising the peace process. For more, read here.

In a positive move, the US Congress has approved a $450 million aid budget for Colombia for 2017. However the Trump administration has asked Congress to reduce the 2018 aid budget for Colombia by $140 million. The success of the peace process is, to some degree, reliant on foreign funding. Read more here.

Human Rights defenders continue to be targeted by paramilitaries in the January-March period of 2017. The NGO Somos Defensores reports that 20 HRDs were killed in this period (19 in 2016) and 193 were subject to attempted assassination, threats and harassment (113 in 2016). The overwhelming majority of perpetrators were identified as paramilitaries followed by ‘unknowns’. The full report, in Spanish, can be downloaded here.

HRDs are particularly vulnerable in zones that have been vacated by the FARC, who maintained a system of rough justice and control over their territory. This is now being fought over by paramilitaries, the ELN (National Liberation Army) and organised crime, according to the Colombian NGO Fundación Paz & Reconciliación.  The article, in Spanish is here.

The plight of LGBTI Colombians who fear for their lives, despite liberal legislation, is the subject of an article in Latin America News Dispatch. Many Colombian LGBTI activists, who have been threatened or attacked by armed groups, seek asylum in the USA. They are the often forgotten victims of the civil war and its aftermath. You can read more here.

For an update on the controversial and giant open cast Cerrejon coal mine, owned by three mining companies listed in London, including Anglo-American, read here.  The London Mining Group and other shareholders questioned Anglo-American’s Board at its AGM on pollution, water usage, prior consultation and climate change, and their responses are most revealing.


On 21 June from 6pm to 8pm, Amnesty will host an event at the Human Rights Action Centre at which Peruvian human rights defender Esperanza Huayama, president of the Association of Forcibly Sterilised Women from the region of Huancabamba in Piura, will be speaking about her experience in seeking justice and reparation for those subjected to forced sterilisation in Peru in the 1990s.  Between 1996 and 1998, some 200,000 women and around 30,000 men were forcibly sterilised, many without their consent or understanding what the procedure meant for their fertility. The victims have been campaigning for justice and reparation for two decades. This meeting is an opportunity to learn more about what this policy consisted of as well as its longer-term consequences.  Further details to follow.

Good news.  After almost five years of proceedings in relation to unfounded criminal charges of land invasion, the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled that there was no reason to pursue the groundless trial of Máxima Acuña Atalaya for land invasion. In a statement, Amnesty called this a “landmark decision for environmental defenders in the country”. More information here.


The Public Prosecutors Office in Temuco, southern Chile, has announced the closure of the case of Víctor QueipulHueiquil, a leader of the Autonomous Community of Temucuicui, because they have been unable to identify those responsible for his detention in June 2016. Víctor QueipulHueiquil fights for the Mapuche Peoples’ claims to their ancestral lands, protection of their cultural and spiritual identity and for their self-determination.For years members of this community have reported that they have suffered from police violence, torture and ill-treatment, legal persecution, stigmatization and criminalization because of their human rights work. In June 2016, a group of officers carried out a police operation into the community’s land, shooting tear gas and using anti-riot weapons. Víctor QueipulHueiquil was detained against his will without a court order by three unidentified individuals, was blindfolded, tied up and beaten. In a statement, Amnesty said that the closure of the investigation sent a dangerous message to human rights defenders in the country. More information here.


Amnesty Brazil is collecting signatures for a petition relating to the Black Youth Alive! campaign to denounce extrajudicial killings of young Black Brazilians. To take action please sign the petition on AI Brazil’s website here. (Please note that the petition is only in Portuguese. Under ‘selecione seu pais’ select ‘Reino Unido’ and under ‘Estado’ select ‘Externo do Brasil’.)

In a new policy on the ‘war on drugs’, last Sunday the police in Sao Paulo detained 53 people, expelled residents and brought in bulldozers to level two full blocks of housing while evicting their occupants, all without notice. Some residents were injured by falling masonry.  This new approach to combat drug use and trafficking by the city’s mayor is denounced by Human Rights Watch, please see here.