South America Newsletter October 2019

We have good news this month from Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. We report on the creation of a UN fact-finding commission on human rights in Venezuela, continued forced displacements, confinement of communities and death threats to journalists and others in Colombia, Amnesty’s response to the Brazilian President’s speech at the UN, the organisations human rights concerns in Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina and the environmental damage caused by fires in the Amazonia regions of Bolivia and Brazil. You can still sign a petition on behalf of Ecuadorian Amazonian Women.


Good news. On 27 September, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution creating a Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the grave human rights violations and crimes under international law that are still taking place in Venezuela.  Amnesty welcomed the decision, which it said would send a strong message to victims and perpetrators alike that impunity would not be allowed to prevail. The UK supported the resolution and published an explanation of its vote. The list of those who opposed it makes interesting reading: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

Prior to the passing of the resolution, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of Venezuela signed a Memorandum of Understanding, establishing a framework for future discussion and cooperation, and providing for the continued presence in the country of a team of two UN human rights officers.

These developments followed an update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, during the opening session of the Council, when she raised concerns over the continued deterioration of the human rights crisis and the lack of accountability for even the gravest human rights violations. Amnesty’s Secretary General then wrote to Council Member States calling on them to seize the opportunity to support the victims of the unprecedented human rights crisis in Venezuela and create a Commission of Inquiry that offers truth and justice to its victims. Many thanks to all who signed Amnesty’s petition calling for the Council to act. 

The UK has announced a significant increase in its support for vulnerable Venezuelans suffering from the country’s economic crisis.

EU Member States have imposed sanctions on seven more individuals for their involvement in human rights violations in Venezuela.


Good news! Amnesty reports that Colombia’s National Prosecutor has agreed with the human rights defender Danelly Estupiñán to investigate those responsible for the different security incidents putting her life in danger. She will have direct access to the work of the investigative team. Danelly has received death threats, harassment and suffered a break-in at her home. Thanks to all of you who responded to the Urgent Actions on her behalf.

Following the announcement by senior members of the FARC to resume their armed actions against the state (see the September newsletter), Amnesty has issued a public statement (in Spanish and French) reminding them of their obligation to respect civilian lives and to abstain from taking hostages. At least 220,000 Colombians were killed during the civil war, with almost 7 million forcibly displaced.

On a positive note, an article in Latin America News Dispatch reports on the reluctance of some former FARC guerrillas to return to the fight. In one of the integration camps, former FARC guerrillas are cultivating crops, have set up a textile factory and some have begun a family. 11,000 FARC guerrillas have formally given up their arms to resettle in 24 integration camps and elsewhere.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Service (IDMS) reports that 39,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced due to the ongoing conflict in the first half of 2019. The IDMS also reports that as of this August ‘at least 4,000 indigenous people are in confinement, with mobility restrictions that have prevented the affected communities from carrying out their income-generating and subsistence activities, as well as the impossibility of having access to medical care.’

According to Colombia Reports, the paramilitary group Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) has threatened to kill nine journalists, as well as ‘candidates and so-called social leaders’. One of the journalists on the Aguilas Negras’ list, Natalia Cabrera, was forced to flee Nariño earlier this month after receiving death threats by phone.


We reported last month that Amnesty was monitoring the criminal proceedings against human rights defender Ola Bini after identifying human rights violations and undue interference by the government.  On 7 September, agents of the Attorney General’s Office and the Judicial Police raided the home of Fabián Hurtado, an independent information technology expert commissioned by Ola Bini’s defence team to analyse the evidence against him, and seized his electronic equipment, raising further concerns about the guarantee of a fair trial.

The Ecuadorian Government have sent a formal response to Amnesty relating to our Amazonian Women campaign, in which they recognise the legitimate and important work carried out by the women, who “through their arduous struggle have managed to highlight and position the needs of the populations belonging to the Ecuadorian Amazon”. They also vow to continue working “within the scope of their competences” to “guarantee the safety” of human rights defenders in Ecuador. These words need to be turned into action, with identification of those responsible for the attacks against the women, the creation of a Specialised Protocol to Investigate Crimes against Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and the implementation of a National HRDs Protection Policy.The number of petition signatures has reached 189,000.  The handover is now scheduled for 13-15 November. You can still sign here.


Amnesty has published an open letter calling on the Bolivian Government to suspend a decree introduced in July that authorized “controlled burns” to extend agricultural activities, until it is certain that the decree has not contributed to the forest fires that are causing an environmental and human rights crisis in Chiquitanía, a region close to the Amazon and the Brazilian border. On 30 August, after announcing the detention of people suspected of causing the fires, President Morales stated that the fires had been started intentionally “for political reasons”


Good news! Vanessa Gómez Cueva, a Peruvian mother of three who was deported seven months ago from Argentina with her 2-year-old son and forced to leave her other two children behind, received permission to return to Argentina following a landmark decision from the Director of the National Migrations Office. Many thanks to all of you who responded to the Urgent Action on Vanessa’s behalf.

Amnesty International has called on the City of Buenos Aires to legalise abortion in the city. In July, Amnesty presented a demand to the Superior Tribunal for Justice to force Buenos Aires to overturn a 2012 ruling that incorporated barriers to women seeking to abort.  You can download the full text (in Spanish) here.


Reacting to President Bolsonaro’s speech at the UN General Assembly  Amnesty issued a public statement: On the Amazon and the protection of indigenous peoples:

“The devastating number and scale of fires in the Amazon this year confirmed the harsh reality faced by Indigenous peoples and other inhabitants of the rainforest. President Bolsonaro failed to make clear how exactly Brazil will protect them.

“We will continue calling on the authorities to fulfil their constitutional and international human rights law obligations to demarcate and protect indigenous lands. We also reiterate our call to strengthen the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) as the main institutions supporting indigenous peoples and actions to protect the environment.”

Agatha Vitoria Sales Felix – killed by Rio police 20 Sept 2019

On public security: The death of Agatha Felix, an eight-year old child in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, is evidence of the lethal nature of public security policy that Brazil has adopted. In RIo de Janeiro alone, state security forces have killed 1,249 people so far in 2019, the highest number since records began in 1998. (BBC Latin America news reports that Agatha is the fifth child in Rio who has died as a result of violence blamed  on the police this year).  Amnesty stated, “We reaffirm our calls for a public security policy that is truly committed to reducing homicides while taking every effort to protect all lives. The state must also stop punishing drug users and allowing greater access to guns that have left a trail of victims, including police officers but mostly black people living in the favelas.”

On freedom of expression and the role of human rights organizations: Amnesty commented, “Without freedom of expression, the promotion and protection of human rights would be in grave danger. The government must also respect the right of civil society to monitor, demand accountability and take action to promote and protect the rights of all people.”

Amnesty International reported that six months after authorities in Rio de Janeiro arrested two men accused of killing human rights defender and councillor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes: they have yet to make any meaningful progress in identifying those who ordered the crime and their motives. Moreover, Amnesty International expressed extreme concern that state agents may have been bent on disrupting investigations into the above deaths.

Fair Planet  reports that by changing the structure of CONANDA (The National Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents), the government has reduced the Council’s power to make decisions and issue positions on the protection of the rights of minors.

 All the best,

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