South America Newsletter October 2017


In this month’s newsletter we have new urgent actions on Colombia and Chile, an updated one on Venezuela, and a new report on the Peruvian government’s failure to provide adequate healthcare to indigenous communities whose water sources are contaminated. We have good news from Colombia about the ceasefire between the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla group and the government, and about the visit of a formerly imprisoned union leader to Amnesty UK’s office. In Brazil, reports emerged of the murder of members of an uncontacted indigenous tribe at the hands of illegal gold miners. Meanwhile in Venezuela, the detained former Defence Minister is once again being held incommunicado. During its annual Embassy crawl, the Lambeth Group delivered a letter to the Embassy of Chile expressing concerns about the safety of Rodrigo Mundaca. You can opt into working on his case.


water in peru


In a new report, A Toxic State, Amnesty has revealed how the Peruvian government has failed to provide adequate healthcare for Indigenous communities in Cuninico and Espinar, in the country’s Amazonian and Andean regions respectively.  Studies found that their only sources of fresh water were contaminated with toxic metals harmful to human health.  Amnesty has launched an accompanying campaign about which we shall write to you separately.

Human Rights Watch have issued a report with new evidence that implicates former President Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) in atrocities during Peru’s armed conflict in the 1990s.  The evidence also implicates Humala in the attempted cover-up of incriminating evidence when he ran for president in 2006.


Good news! Amnesty has issued a press release welcoming the ceasefire between the ELN (National Liberation Army) rebels and the Colombian government, adding “Any peace agreement with guerrilla groups will be meaningless unless Colombian authorities ensure that paramilitary groups are no longer operating in the country. Dismantling paramilitary groups and ensuring full respect for human rights must be a top priority in the Colombian government’s agenda.” For the full statement click here.

The situation in Chocó department continues to cause a humanitarian and security crisis affecting the indigenous inhabitants. Amnesty issued an Urgent Action, which we sent you in September, but there is still time to act! Crimes against international law and human rights violations include the selective killing of members of Afro-Colombian communities and indigenous peoples, forced collective displacements, the confinement of communities and forced recruitment of boys and girls. You can download the urgent action here.

Huber Ballesteros, Colombian union leader, released from over 3 years in preventative detention, visited Amnesty UK’s office in September. He was told by the authorities that the only way he could be safe from assassins was to remain in prison or leave the country. He and his family have received two death threats since his release and live with armed guards. But they have had to send their daughter, who was refused protection, to Spain. He met with Amnesty Spain staff responsible for Amnesty’s protection programme for human rights defenders; nearly all come from Colombia.

AB Colombia, a UK NGO, led a multidisciplinary team of scientists to highlight the devastation caused by illegal mining in Colombia. Focusing on one of the most impacted areas, the Rio Quito area, near Quibdo in Colombia’s Pacific Region, the satellite image analysis has shown that since 2014, some 17 km2 of rainforest has been destroyed by illegal mining. “The extent and rapidity of the mining and deforestation is shocking. I’ve worked in similar mining districts in West Africa, Guyana and Borneo, but have never seen so much devastation from mining in such a short time,” said Dr Teeuw, a member of the team.

The Fundación por la paz y reconciliación (Peace and Reconciliation Foundation) has published a report on the Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan), which controls the largest paramilitary force (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) in the Americas. The report includes a map of the extensive territory where the Gulf Clan operates as well as how it is organised and works on a local level. The Clan is estimated to control 45% of the export of drugs from the country. You can read the full report (in Spanish only) here.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Colombia (the first since 2010). In one of its points, the Committee of Experts commended Colombia’s commitment to peace and noted this opportunity for the country to live up fully to its obligations under the Covenant, which meant taking serious steps to recognize land rights in post-conflict areas, as well as the right to restitution for indigenous and rural populations. Land rights has long been seen by Amnesty as the key to any successful peace process. Nearly seven million Colombians have been displaced from their land during the conflict. Click here to read the full report.


A federal judge overruled a ban on gay conversion therapy — a therapy which attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation. The ban had been in place since 1999 when the Federal Council of Psychology prohibited it. The judge ruled in favour of an action brought by a psychologist whose licence was revoked in 2016 after she offered the therapy. In a 2009 interview the psychologist in question had described homosexuality as a “disease”. Click here for an article on the subject by Human Rights Watch.

Reports emerged of the murder of approximately ten members of an uncontacted indigenous tribe at the hands of illegal gold miners in the Amazonian Javari Valley. The incident occurred in August in an area of Amazonas state known as the “uncontacted frontier”. This area has a high concentration of tribes with no contact with modern society. The incident has been described as a massacre, and would be the second deadliest after the murder of 16 Yanomami indigenous people in Roraima state in 1993. Activists have partly blamed budget cuts to the National Indian Foundation (Funai) for violence against indigenous groups. For Survival International’s account of the incident, click here.

The prosecutor general’s office filed charges of racketeering and obstruction of justice against President Michel Temer and six other leading politicians from his Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB). Three of those charged are already service jail sentences. The matter will now be taken to the lower house of congress, and if two-thirds of lawmakers agree, Temer will be put on trial by the Supreme Court. These latest charges were filed just over a month after the President survived a vote to approve corruption charges against him. That was the first time that an incumbent president had been formally charged with a crime. For The Guardian’s account of this story, click here.


Peru is taking the lead in a regional initiative to find a solution to the crisis in Venezuela.  Latin American Foreign Ministers met in the margins of the UN General Assembly on 20 September and will re-convene in Canada in October.

The President of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, and Antonieta López, the mother of opposition leader, Leopoldo López, visited London on 7 September and had a meeting with the Prime Minister.  López’s wife was prevented by the Venezuelan authorities from travelling with the visitors.  The Prime Minister said that the British Government was deeply troubled by the detention of political prisoners such as Leopoldo López and urged the Venezuelan government to ensure that human rights, the rule of law, the separation of powers and the integrity of democratic institutions were respected.

Raúl Isaías Baduel, the detained former Defence Minister, is once again being held incommunicado at the National Intelligence Service facilities in Caracas, denied access to his family and lawyers.  His family is concerned for his physical and mental integrity.  The latest update to the Urgent Action is here.


The Lambeth Group’s annual Embassy crawl on 23 September this year included a stop at the Chilean Embassy where we delivered a letter setting out our concerns about the safety of Rodrigo Mundaca and the organisation MODATIMA, who have suffered physical attacks, threats, intimidation and harassment in Petorca Province because of their efforts to defend the local communities’ right of access to water.  Rodrigo is one of the five individual human rights defenders highlighted in the BRAVE campaign.  If you want to opt into working on his case, please email Graham at

For more than 100 days, four Indigenous Mapuche men have been on hunger strike in protest of unfair judicial proceedings against them under the Chilean Counter-Terrorism Act.  On 25 September, one of them began a dry hunger strike by refusing to consume any liquids.  As a result, their lives are at risk.  They have been in pre-trial detention since 10 June 2016 following accusations of having burned down an Evangelical church.  Amnesty have issued an Urgent Action here.


As already reported, Nora Cortiñas, co-founder and still one of the leaders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, will visit the UK in early November under the auspices of the Argentina Solidarity Campaign.  She will speak at Cambridge University on 1 November and at Senate House, University of London, on 2 November.


 This newsletter is managed by volunteers.

Graham Minter (Rest of South America), Richard Crosfield (Colombia) and Joe Smith (Brazil)

AIUK South America Team