South America Newsletter June 2019

As the crisis in Venezuela continues, Amnesty has issued two new reports, an Urgent Action and two petitions on that country. We report on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Colombia and Brazil, but there’s good news from Peru. We’re asking you to sign petitions on Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and Ecuador.


Amnesty issued two reports on Venezuela in May.

In the first (Welcome Venezuela), Amnesty explained that Venezuela’s unprecedented human rights crisis is not only affecting millions of people inside the country but has forced one in every ten people in Venezuela to leave their homes in the last four years. It has called on the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean not to impose barriers that hinder the entry of those fleeing the crisis or to return anyone to Venezuela given the risk they run of suffering human rights violations. There is an online petition that you can sign here.

In the second (Hunger for Justice), Amnesty argues that selective extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and deaths and injuries caused by the excessive use of force by Maduro’s government as part of a systematic and widespread policy of repression since at least 2017 may constitute crimes against humanity. It has called for a vigorous response from the international justice system. There is an online petition for this too – sign here.

Amnesty has issued an Urgent Action calling on the Venezuelan authorities to reveal the fate and whereabouts of Gilber Caro, an opposition member of the National Assembly, who was, according to reports, taken by intelligence officers on 26 April 2019 while he was at a restaurant in Caracas.  Gilber Caro was arbitrarily detained from January 2017 until June 2018 under unfounded accusations of treason and stealing military equipment but eventually conditionally released. You can take action here.


7,000 members of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Chocó face death threats and are at risk of forced displacement. Most have been forcibly confined to their territories for more than a year because of the ongoing confrontations between illegal armed groups. Amnesty has set up a petition asking the state to immediately implement a comprehensive protection plan for people in Chocó and ensure that victims receive reparations and guarantees that human rights violations will be prevented. Please sign it here!

The Colombian NGO Somos Defensores (We are defenders) issued a damning report on the killings of Human Rights Defenders in 2018. 155 HRDs were killed in 2018, an increase of 46% on 2017, the highest figure since the NGO started its reports in 2009. Many leaders of rural communities were killed either because they supported the government’s plan to replaces coca and marijuana with other crops or because they refused to plant coca or marijuana. Although in 72% of the cases the perpetrators are unknown, of the remainder that are known, paramilitaries were responsible for 36%, FARC dissidents for 29% and the ELN and state security forces 17.5% each. You can download this extensive report in the English version here.

Documents seen by Associated Press into investigations into extrajudicial killings allegedly show that the recently appointed head of the Army was involved in the cover-up of the killings of civilians by the Army ten years ago. The military killed up to 5,000 civilians, reporting them to be guerrilla rebels in what became known as ‘False Positives’, in response to incentives (pay and perks) from their superiors.

Fuerza de Mujeres (Women’s Force) of the Wayuu indigenous people have denounced death threats from a paramilitary group that have forced some of their members to flee their homes in La Guajira. Although they have informed the authorities of these threats since October 2018, they say that they have not been offered any protection. You can view their statement in Spanish here. In response to these death threats the huge Cerrejon coal mine, which is located in La Guajira and whose operations are opposed by the Wayuu, publicly called on the authorities to protect Fuerza de Mujeres and bring to justice those responsible.


Amnesty reports on the measures taken by President Bolsonaro’s government that are of particular concern. They include the relaxation of laws on possessing and carrying firearms; a more punitive approach to drug use; provisions in the “anti-crime package”; the negative impact on the rights of indigenous peoples and Quilombolas; the attempt to interfere unduly in the work of civil society organisations, and measures infringing upon victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations for the crimes under international law committed by the state during the military regime. Further, by attacking the independence and autonomy of the Inter-American Human Rights System and other anti-human rights rhetoric, the authorities could be seen to legitimise various human rights violations.

Amnesty laments  the unwillingness of the Brazilian authorities to debate human rights.  “What we are proposing are possible paths to a more inclusive country: a country for everyone. Demonstrating openness to dialogue would be an important signal from the government of Brazil, South America’s largest country, in this period of major threats to and violations of human rights in the Americas”.

 Rio de Janeiro’s Representative Talíria Petrone has denounced to the United Nations for what they consider a “genocidal agenda” of the Governor of Rio de Janeiro. 434 people were killed in actions by the security forces between January and March in Rio alone, setting a new record. The Governor favours the “slaughter” of criminals carrying guns and the use of helicopters as platforms for shooting during operations.

Amnesty International recently visited three different indigenous territories in northern Brazil, where illegal invaders had begun or expanded efforts to appropriate land and/or clear trees. The indigenous leaders informed the organization that they had received death threats for defending their traditional lands.

The invaders are often local people encouraged and supported by local farmers and politicians to occupy land and/or sell the wood.

Indigenous peoples conduct patrols to monitor and protect their lands against such invasions. As the invaders are often armed, there is a high risk of violent clashes.

The Washington Post reports that at least 55 prison inmates were strangled or stabbed to death in fights at four state facilities in north-western Brazil.  The authorities plan to move inmates around the country’s overcrowded prison system in the hope of reducing tensions.


The campaign to achieve justice and protection for members of the Mujeres Amazónicas (Amazonian Women) collective in Ecuador, highlighted in our last newsletter, is well under way.  The full story is here.  You can still sign a message to the Ecuadorian Attorney General here.


Amnesty has welcomed the recent approval of a Protocol for the protection of human rights defenders in Peru. It has urged that this be used as a springboard for, among other initiatives, a comprehensive policy and mandatory measures to effectively guarantee that defenders at risk can carry out their work in a favourable and secure environment.


29 May, thousands of people marched through cities in Argentina demanding the passage of an abortion bill that would legalise abortion. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 500,000 abortions take place every year and the consequences of illegal and unsafe abortion have constituted the leading cause of maternal mortality in this country. Please sign Amnesty’s online petition!

All the best,

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