South America Newsletter November 2018

This month we have good news from Uruguay and four Urgent Actions (Colombia 2, Venezuela and Ecuador 1 each). We report on the possible consequences for human rights of the newly elected presidents of Brazil and Colombia and the continued harassment, threats and killings of environmental rights defenders and indigenous people in Colombia, Chile and Ecuador.


Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action on behalf of the Wayúu indigenous people of La Guajra department. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia reports that on 10 October several threatening pamphlets against Wayúu indigenous organizations defending human rights were found on the streets and railroad tracks of Uribia in the department of La Guajira. The pamphlets state that organizations defending human rights in the department of La Guajira “hinder the development of the country” and threaten that they will be attacked. Please download the UA here and write to the authorities.

AI has also issued an Urgent Action on behalf of Alfamir Castillo, a member of the Committee of Women Sugar Cane Harvesters. In the past 2 weeks she has received death threats. Alfamir is seeking justice into the extrajudicial execution of her son Darbey Mosquera Castillo by members of the Counter Guerrilla Battalion 57 Martires de Puerres of the VIII Brigade of the Colombian army. This extrajudicial execution was part of the Colombian “false positives” scandal, in which members of the armed forces unlawfully killed thousands of civilians, most of whom were presented as “guerrilla killed in combat”. Please write to the authorities in the attachment.

Amnesty welcomes a new decision by the Constitutional Court on abortion rights. Prior to 2006, abortion was illegal in Colombia. Since 2006, abortion in Colombia is legal in the following circumstances:

  1. The continuation of the pregnancy constitutes a danger to the life or health of the mother;
  2. The existence of life-threatening foetal malformations;
  3. The pregnancy is the result of rape, non-consensual artificial insemination or incest.

However, clinics raise barriers to avoid complying with the law. Several organisations, including an amicus curiae brief by Amnesty International, contested this practice. The Constitutional Court maintained its 2006 ruling on abortion, adding that Congress should legislate to eliminate the barriers that some clinics use to prevent legal abortions and to ensure that women have access to the health system for legal abortions.

Richard met the new Presidential Counsellor for Human Rights, Francisco Barbosa, at the Colombian embassy.  Sr. Barbosa gave a complete survey of the new President’s policy on human rights in Colombia. In general, it seems that President Iván Duque will continue with his predecessor’s policies in respect of the Peace Accord with the FARC, but he was very critical of the JEP (special court for adjudicating the Peace Accord), which does not augur well. It also seems that the new government will limit the consultation processes that local communities currently enjoy for new resource investments, is already taking stronger methods to eradicate coca and marijuana plantations, and will use the armed forces to recover territory that is currently outside the control of the authorities in Bogotá. The consequences for human rights are not clear, though Sr. Barbosa said that the government respected the role of human rights defenders and would comply with its obligations to human rights.

Sr. Barbosa added that commitments signed by the previous administration were not adequately funded. And that the cost of hosting over 1 million Venezuelan refugees now exceeded $8 billion, equivalent to the entire budget for the Peace Accord.


In response to the result of the election in Brazil, an Amnesty International news article states:

“That toxic speech must not become government policy”. Reacting to the election of Jair Bolsonaro and Hamilton Mourão as president and vice president of Brazil, on 28 October, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International said:

“The president-elect has campaigned with an openly anti-human-rights agenda and frequently made discriminatory statements about different groups of society. His election as Brazil´s president could pose a huge risk to Indigenous Peoples and quilombolas, traditional rural communities, LGBTI people, black youth, women, activists and civil society organizations, if his rhetoric is transformed into public policy.”

Bolsonaro’s campaign promises include loosening gun control laws and granting prior authorization for law enforcement officials to kill. These proposals, if adopted, would worse the already dire context of lethal violence in Brazil, where there are 63,000 homicides each year, more than 70% of them from firearms, and police commit approximately 5,000 homicides a year, many of which are indeed extrajudicial executions.

Moreover, he has threatened Indigenous Peoples’ territories, to change land demarcation processes and authorize major natural resource exploitation projects. Likewise, he has also talked about relaxing environmental regulations and criticized Brazil’s environmental protection agencies, thus endangering the right of all people to a healthy environment.

Sound installation about police violence in Rio de Janeiro is coming to London (15 and 16 November) as part of Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities. For more information see and

We thank the organisers for providing visitors to this event the opportunity of signing the petition regarding Marielle Franco, the prominent human rights defender who was killed in Rio de Janeiro on 14 March. It is suspected that law enforcement, military or public officials were involved in this crime.


Fernando Albán, a councillor for Primero Justicia, an opposition party in Venezuela, died while in the custody of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) on 8 October. His body fell from the tenth floor of the headquarters of the SEBIN in Caracas, although the circumstances around his death are unclear. Amnesty have issued an Urgent Action calling for a prompt, thorough and independent investigation.


Amnesty has welcomed the decision of the Preparatory Trial Court of the Supreme Court of Justice to overturn the pardon granted to former President Alberto Fujimori last December, commenting that the court’s ruling is a victory for the victims of the serious human rights violations for which Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The Peruvian Congress have since passed a  bill granting prisoners who are over a certain age and have served a third of their sentences the right to serve the remainder under “electronic surveillance.”Human Rights Watch have called on President Vizcarrato to veto the bill, which it described as a thinly veiled effort to secure former President Fujimori’s continued freedom.


Graham had a useful meeting with the Minister-Counsellor at the Chilean Embassy in London in which, among other things, he welcomed the measures taken by the State to protect Human Rights Defenders Rodrigo Mundaca, Veronica Vilches and Karina Riquelme, while also drawing attention to Amnesty’s concern about the continuing use of the Anti-Terrorism Law to investigate and prosecute Mapuche indigenous people for crimes not involving violence against people.


The home of environmental defender Margoth Escobar was intentionally set on fire in Puyo, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, on 29 September. This is the fourth attack this year against members of the Amazon Women collective who defend the land, the territory and the environment in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Amnesty have issued an Urgent Action calling on the authorities to investigate and provide protection measures for Margoth and her family.


Good news!  The Paraguayan authorities have called for an impartial and independent investigation into the attacks against Tekoha Sauce Indigenous leader Amada Martínez, and provided physical protection to the community. In addition, the Paraguayan Institute for Indigenous Affairs formally recognized Cristóbal Martínez as their Indigenous representative leader enabling the community to claim their ancestral lands. This was the subject of an Urgent Action in August.  Many thanks to all those who took action.


Argentina and Uruguay have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council, effectively replacing Venezuela and Ecuador, whose current terms are coming to an end. They will serve three-year terms beginning on 1 January 2019.

Thanks to all of you who have responded to Amnesty’s urgent actions and petitions in the region.

All the best,

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