South America Newsletter May 2018


We have a lot to report this month including new Amnesty reports on the rise in attacks on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Colombia and on the tactics used by the authorities in Peru and Paraguay against land and environmental activists.  Amnesty Brazil have a petition to demand a thorough investigation into the murder of Marielle Franco and her driver in Rio.  We also report on the visit to Argentina by Amnesty’s Secretary General and draw attention to two new Urgent Actions for Chile and Venezuela.  There is some good news from Peru and Ecuador and we report concerns about the use of conscientious objection to obstruct access to abortions in Chile.


Amnesty has released a new report on the rise in attacks on HRDs. It notes “This disheartening situation is largely the result of the power vacuums left following the demobilization of the FARC guerrilla movement and the lack of action by the state to increase its presence in historically neglected territories which were weakened by the armed conflict.”

The report pinpoints the failures of the State to provide accurate information, while denying that the increase in killings is related to the leadership positions of HRDs. The Ombudsman reports 148 killings of HRDs between January 2017 and February 2018, a big increase on the previous period. The National Protection Unit offers little or no effective help to many of the HRDs who are targeted and does not recognise the risk borne by entire communities.

Amnesty notes that there is no special provision for women HRDs and they have lost custody of their children due to the extraordinary risks they face, which extend to their families. In these cases, the authorities only consider the option of removing children from the nuclear family, which is a violation of their human rights and further proof of the state’s lack of interest in providing a comprehensive, differentiated response.

There is a further concern about areas of the country, such as Chocó, where the dynamic of paramilitaries forcibly dispossessing local communities of their land for economic reasons has returned.

In a setback to the peace process, one of the leaders of the FARC negotiating team (known as Jesús Santrich) was arrested at the request of the USA. The US claims that he and others are responsible for trafficking 10 tons of cocaine to the US last year after the signing of the Peace Accord, thereby negating the impunity he was offered. According to Colombia Peace Monitoring, more than 10% of the FARC guerrillas have returned to their former activities. FARC dissidents continue to operate on the border with Ecuador, where they have taken 4 people captive.

In a victory for local communities, AngloGold Ashanti has accepted the result of a referendum in Tolima, Cajamarca, whose people voted overwhelmingly against the extraction of gold in their territory. AngloGold has withdrawn from the territory. This follows 10 years of protests by local inhabitants.

After the assassination of one of the witnesses to the trial of former President, Alvaro Uribe, Human Rights Watch has called for greater protection for the remaining witnesses in this case. The Supreme Court is investigating the possible manipulation of witnesses in a case alleging Uribe’s connection to paramilitary leaders.


Following the assassination of the Human Rights Defender Marielle Franco and her driver in Rio de Janeiro, Amnesty International Brazil has raised a petition: “Raise your voice and demand a thorough investigation to know who killed Marielle and Anderson and prosecute those responsible.” You can sign the petition (in English) here.

Amnesty has recently issued a news release on Marielle’s assassination, with further background information. “Elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council in 2016, Marielle was known for defending women’s rights, with a particular focus on the black women’s struggle, as well as LGBT rights, and for denouncing police abuses and extrajudicial executions, particularly in the favelas. Days before her killing, she was appointed rapporteur of the commission to monitor the intervention of the armed forces in public security tasks in Rio de Janeiro.” You can read the full press release here.

Survival International has released a video clip asking the Brazilian authorities to protect uncontacted indigenous tribes “the most vulnerable people on the planet”. You can see it here.

The Guardian (in collaboration with Global Witness) reports on the third murder of an anti-palm oil campaigner in Amazonia since December. All three were members of indigenous and Quilombo (Afro-descendant) communities. According to the Pastoral Land Commission, 70 people were killed in Brazil last year over land and the environment disputes – the highest level since 2003.


In a new report A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay Amnesty has highlighted the vicious smear campaigns, forced evictions and unfounded criminal charges used by authorities in Peru and Paraguay against land and environmental activists who dare to speak out about human rights issues.  We are encouraging members and supporters to help to publicise the report through social media and in the coming months will take a range of measures to urge the two governments to address the issue.  You can access the report here.

Amnesty has welcomed the decision of Peru’s senior prosecutor to order the indictment of former president Alberto Fujimori and members of his cabinet for their alleged responsibility for crimes committed against women who were forcibly sterilized as part of a public policy applied during his term.  There is strong evidence that medical personnel were pressured to reach sterilization quotas and that, in most cases, the women did not give their free and informed consent. Many did not receive adequate post-operative care, as a result of which they suffered health problems and 18 of them died.  More information here.


Amnesty’s Secretary General visited Argentina in April.  Argentina is in the global spotlight this year as it holds the G20 presidency.  During his visit, Salil Shetty called on the government to commit to tackle human rights challenges, including the rights of indigenous people.  He expressed concern to President Macri over troubling signs of the erosion of the rights to protest and freedom of expression in Argentina.  He welcomed the President’s initiative to open a congressional debate on abortion.  He also welcomed Argentina’s generosity towards migrants and refugees fleeing the human rights crisis in Venezuela, but he emphasized the need for regional leaders, including Argentina, to work towards a real solution in Venezuela which puts human rights at its centre.  More information here.


Human Rights Watch have launched a campaign calling on Latin Americans and their governments to speak out and urge the Venezuelan government to recognize and tackle the devastating human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The campaign was launched on the eve of the Summit of the Americas in Lima on 13 April at which many countries condemned the Venezuelan Government and refused to recognise the forthcoming presidential elections.  Bolivia and Cuba defended President Maduro and criticised the decision to ban him from the summit.  More information here.

In an Urgent Action (which we shall circulate shortly), Amnesty has called for the immediate and unconditional release of two prisoners of conscience, Gregory Hinds and Geraldine Chacón, who have been arbitrarily detained in the custody of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) since 31 January and 1 February respectively.  They were issued a release warrant on 2 April, but the SEBIN has refused to comply with the warrant.  Both are directors of a Venezuelan NGO founded in 2008 that works with at-risk youth in marginalized areas of Venezuela.  Geraldine Chacón founded and coordinated Amnesty Venezuela’s local youth network at the Metropolitan University of Venezuela.


There is still time to act on the Urgent Action in relation to Machi Celestino Córdova, the Mapuche Indigenous spiritual leader imprisoned since 2014, whose health and life are at risk as a result of more than 90 days on hunger strike.  You can take action here.

Córdova was sentenced for an arson attack by a group of individuals in 2013 which led to the deaths of an elderly couple.  Other Mapuche people have also faced trial on terrorism-related charges related to the same crime but they were acquitted in 2017 as the evidence against them was found to be riddled with flaws.  One of them, Machi Francisca Linconao, now faces trial again on the same charges for which she was acquitted.  This has highlighted concerns about the discriminatory way in which the justice system in Chile is used against Indigenous leaders who are struggling for the defence of their territory and the environment.  Amnesty has called for a prompt and impartial investigation to clarify the facts and for those responsible for the killings to be brought to justice.  You can read more here.

When Chile’s National Congress passed a law that legalized abortion under three specific circumstances last year, a “conscientious objection” clause was included that allows people not to follow laws that violate their convictions or beliefs.  In the case of abortion, the clause allows medical professionals to refuse to perform abortions if performing them violates their religious or moral beliefs.  If they object, they must then refer the woman or girl to a medical professional who does not.  Congress passed a law that specifically excluded institutional conscientious objection on the grounds that conscientious objection would always be personal, but this was revised by the Constitutional Court.  This has raised concerns that conscientious objection could become a real obstacle for access to the kinds of abortion now protected by law.  The government has the responsibility to ensure that women and girls who need an abortion under the circumstances permitted by law have access to safe, affordable abortion services, as a minimum expression of respect for their human rights.  More information here.


Good news!  Indigenous defender Patricia Gualinga, the subject of an Urgent Action in January, is receiving protection measures and is no longer considered under imminent threat. No new security incidents or threats against her have occurred since the 5 January attack at her home.

All the best.

South America Team – Richard Crosfield (Colombia and Brazil) and Graham Minter (Rest of South America).