South America Newsletter September 2017


Lots to report this month, but first we give a warm welcome to a new member of our team: Joe Smith, our new Brazil Coordinator, who has produced the Brazil section of this newsletter.  You will be hearing from Joe himself shortly.  In this newsletter, we report among other things on the continuing deterioration in Venezuela, the disturbing rise in murders of human rights defenders in Colombia and proposals that would seriously reduce human rights protections in Brazil.  There is good news from Chile and Paraguay, advance notice of a new campaign on Peru and a disappearance in Argentina.  You are invited to join the Lambeth Group’s annual Embassy crawl which will include a stop at the Chilean Embassy


15 of the 51 HR Defenders killed in Colombia between Jan and June 2017

15 of the 51 HR Defenders killed in Colombia between Jan and June 2017

Many thanks to everyone who wrote to the Colombian authorities about Amnesty’s concerns in Chocó department. We have already received two responses from the Office of the President in reply to your letters. Violence, forced displacements, sowing of anti-personnel mines and recruitment of child soldiers is a continuing concern. Amnesty has a mission there now. The UK embassy in Bogotá sent one of its staff to the Chocó and he has reported back his concerns to the FCO. We have also requested a response from the authorities in Bogotá via their London embassy. For a recent Public Statement by Amnesty on the situation, please download it here.

Huber Ballesteros, the leader of Colombia’s Field-Workers Union, will be visiting us at Amnesty UK’s London office on 6 September. We sent out invitations to you all last week. Huber’s trial was considered to be unfair by Amnesty and he was held in preventative detention for three years, before being finally released. Three months after his release, he received a death threat. Thanks to all of you who wrote on his behalf.

The Colombian NGO Somos Defensores (We are Defenders) report that the number of HR defenders who have been killed in the January-June period of 2017 (51 people) was a sharp increase on the same period in 2016 (35). This increase is entirely due to the activity of paramilitary groups and ‘unknowns’. The full report is in Spanish and may be downloaded here.

Front Line Defenders report that a large paramilitary group threatened five human rights defenders in the region of Barrancabermeja, known as the Oil Capital of Colombia. All five are well-known for their work on the peace process. On 17 August, the daughter of Maria Leonilda Ravelo Grimaldo, one of these HR defenders, was threatened by gunmen while walking her dog.  For the full report please click here.

The Colombian NGO Fundación Paz y Reconciliación (Peace and Reconciliation Foundation) has published an extensive report on the ongoing fighting in Tumaco, Nariño Department between 11 different armed groups. This is a struggle for control of the port and the surrounding coca growing region. The number of murders has increased by two-thirds in the first 6 months of 2017. Former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)  rebels have joined new armed groups, while members of the ELN (National Liberation Army) belong to others and paramilitaries and gangs from outside the region have now entered it. The local authorities are overwhelmed and the central authorities have not been able to stem the violence. For the full report in Spanish, with map, please click here The violence here, as in Chocó, and the increased killings of HR defenders illustrate the fragility of the peace agreement.


Amnesty has launched a short campaign to expose and stop dozens of legislative moves by the Brazilian Congress which would be a serious setback to human rights and the lives of millions. In the shadows of the country’s political crisis, a number of constitutional amendments and changes in legislation have been crafted to erase legislation or limit its scope and application in a way that would seriously affect children’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, indigenous and afro-descendant land rights, the freedom of expression and assembly and those marginalised communities affected by gun violence. We will be campaigning on this until 30 November.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of two tribes in a land dispute with the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. It ordered that the State respect the demarcation of land traditionally occupied by indigenous people and established the land as the territory of the Nambikwara and Pareci tribes. The unanimous decision came despite a recent controversial policy proposal made by the current administration. This stipulated that any tribe not occupying its ancestral land when the country’s constitution came into effect in 1988 would lose the right to live there. For the Guardian’s article, read here.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on a bill which the Senate is being asked to consider and which would prevent members of the Armed Forces accused of extrajudicial killings from being prosecuted in civilian courts. These courts have had jurisdiction over cases of unlawful killings by the Armed Forces since 1996. If the bill is passed, jurisdiction would transfer to military courts. HRW stated that this would increase the risks of impunity in such cases, and called on the Senate to reject it. The report follows the Brazilian government’s deployment of thousands of soldiers to Rio de Janeiro at the end of July in response to an increase in violence. The soldiers are set to remain in the city until the end of 2018. For the full report read here.

President Michel Temer survived a vote to remove his immunity to corruption charges against him. Opposition lawmakers required a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Congress to send the case to the Supreme Court. Had the vote passed, Temer would have been suspended for up to 180 days and put on trial. More than half of the deputies voted against the motion, which stemmed from allegations that he had accepted bribes.


The situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate with more demonstrations, more repression of these by security forces, more violent deaths and more arrests of opposition members.  In a statement, Amnesty warned that the government’s tightening stranglehold on any form of dissent was taking repression to a frightening new level.

At the beginning of the month, officers from the Venezuelan intelligence services took two prominent opposition leaders (Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma) under house arrest from their homes without a warrant.  Three days later they were returned, but many more opposition figures remain in detention.

We also issued an Urgent Action about Raúl Isaías Baduel, who was unexpectedly taken from his cell on 8 August. There has been no information regarding his whereabouts since. Raul Isaías Baduel is a retired general of the Armed Forces and former Minister of Defense and has been a public critic of the government since he retired in 2007. He has been imprisoned since 2009 for a range of charges, which are widely considered to have been politically motivated.

On 24 August, Graham had a useful meeting with the British Ambassador-designate to Venezuela, Andrew Soper, who will take up his post in October.  They dicussed international concerns over the current situation in Venezuela and what the British and other Governments might be able to do to support efforts to alleviate it.


We sent you an Urgent Action about Santiago Maldonado, who has been missing since 1 August when about 100 security forces entered the territory of a Mapuche indigenous community and, according to the community, fired lead and rubber bullets and burned many families’ possessions.  There are various witness reports suggesting that he may have been detained.  The community is pursuing a land claim against a company owned by the Benetton family.  We also raised the matter with the Argentine Embassy, who have told us that an investigation is under way.


Good news!  Chile’s Constitional Court has ruled in favour of decriminalising abortion under three circumstances: when the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or girl, when the foetus would be unable to survive outside the womb, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape.  This follows months of discussion amongst Chilean legislators who finally approved the legislation.  Many thanks to all of you who supported Amnesty’s campaign on this.  Chile was one of the few countries in the world with a total ban on abortion. Now, only seven countries criminalize abortion without   exceptions, six of which are in the Americas: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Suriname.

So far five groups have volunteered to work on the case of Rodrigo Mundaca and MODATIMA, which you may have seen is featured prominently in the new BRAVE campaign.  Rodrigo and his colleagues have been subjected to death threats, physical attacks and criminal charges as a result of their work in support of the right of local communities to water.  If you want to opt in to our efforts to protect Rodrigo and his colleagues, please let Graham know.  If you would like some of the action cards produced for his case, please email

On 23 September, the Lambeth Group will undertake its annual Embassy crawl.  This year, the Chilean Embassy will be one of those visited, with a focus on Rodrigo Mundaca.  All are invited to take part.  Graham will be going and will be very pleased to see any of you who are able to go.  A flyer is attached.


More good news!  Menchi Barriocanal and Oscar Acosta, the journalists who were threatened with imprisonment by President Horacio Cartes, have stopped receiving threats and seem to be out of immediate danger of being arbitrarily detained.  Again, many thanks to those of you who acted on this.


Watch out for a new campaign to pressure the Peruvian Government to implement an emergency healthcare strategy for two indigenous communities (Espinar and Cuninico) who are facing a health crisis due to being exposed to toxic metals without having access to adequate medical care.  The campaign will be launched on 13 September.


Graham Minter, Richard Crosfield and Joe Smith     AIUK South America Team       5 September 2017