South America Newsletter September 2018

This newsletter includes amongst other matters:  troubling statistics regarding killings of human rights defenders in Colombia and police killings in Rio de Janeiro.  There are also concerns regarding the plight of environmental defenders in Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. Chile is criticised for misusing its anti-terrorism law. A vote on abortion in Argentina had a disappointing outcome and there are calls to solve a case relating to a particular disappearance in this country.  UN agencies have expressed concern about the crisis due to  people fleeing Venezuela. There are two urgent actions (Paraguay and Venezuela).


After a marathon 16-hour debate, Argentina’s Senate have voted against legalizing abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.  For now, people who need to terminate pregnancies in Argentina will have to continue to risk death or incarceration.  But, in this article, the Executive Director of Amnesty Argentina argues that the vote was a stepping stone, not a setback.

One year on from the disappearance and subsequent death of Santiago Maldonado, Amnesty has called on the authorities to solve the case and comply with their obligation to guarantee the rights of his family to truth, justice and reparation.  Maldonado disappeared following a violent raid on a Mapuche community by the Argentine National Gendarmerie.  He had arrived in the territory of the community the day before to assist in its suit to reclaim tribal lands.


Ex-President Michelle Bachelet has been nominated as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Bachelet, who served two terms, was Chile’s first (and so far only) woman President.  Following the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, she and her mother were detained, interrogated, tortured and then released before going into exile.

Amnesty has issued a report criticising Chile’s use of its anti-terrorism law to prosecute Indigenous Mapuche people seeking to defend their land rights.  An English translation of the report should be available shortly.


Amnesty has issued an Urgent Action about Amada Martínez, a human rights Indigenous defender who was threatened by three armed men wearing uniforms of the Itaipú Binational (Paraguay-Brazil) hydroelectric plant.  Amada Martínez has been campaigning for the rights of her community, who have suffered displacement from their territory by the construction of the hydroelectric plant.   You can still take action here.


The authorities have arrested 131 people accused of attempted to sabotage the government’s latest reforms aimed at resolving the economic crisis.

Amnesty has issued an Urgent Action about Lisa Henrito, an Indigenous environmental rights defender accused on national television of “treason” by a military official due to her activism in the defence of her Indigenous People’s traditional territory.  In previous cases, public accusations of this kind have been followed by persecution and detention by the authorities.  You can still take action here.


Amnesty has joined four other organisations in signing an open letter to President Moreno expressing their concern about attacks against land, territory and environment defenders.  The letter calls on the Ecuadorian authorities, among other things, to carry out an effective investigation into the attacks and implement a National Policy for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.  In this article, Amnesty’s Americas Director describes the threats faced by Human Rights Defenders in Ecuador.


A recent  Human Rights Watch Report  published on 16 August argues that Police Killings are out of control in Rio de Janeiro and putting Police Under Army’s Mandate Has Failed to Stem Bloodshed.
In January, the military police of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro pledged to reduce killings by its officers by 20 percent by the end of the year. But from January to July, the number of police killings actually increased by 39 percent, as compared with the same period last year. Military and civil police killed 895 people during those months. At the current rate, the state will have its bloodiest year in more than a decade.

Survival International Report  states that a leader of an Amazon tribe acclaimed for its environmental defenders has been killed, the latest in a series of deaths among the tribe.

The body of Jorginho Guajajara was found near a river in the Brazilian state of Maranhão. He was a leader of the Guajajara people, acclaimed internationally for their work as the ‘Guardians of the Amazon’ in the most threatened region in the entire Amazon.

An International Commission of Jurists article reveals that the Regional Federal Tribunal (TRF-3), in a watershed judgment, ruled that prescription or statute of limitations was not applicable to claims of reparation by a victim of torture during the military regime in the 1970s.

We are informed by an OAS press release that the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of the journalist Marlon de Carvalho Araújo and urges the Brazilian authorities to investigate the possible connection of the crime to the journalistic work of the victim.

According to the information available, the journalist Marlon de Carvalho Araújo was shot to death at his residence in the town of Chapada, a rural area of the city of Riachão of Jacuípe, Bahia, on the morning of August 16.


The Colombian NGO Somos Defensores reports that 46 Human Rights Defenders were killed in the first three months of 2018, more than double the number killed in the same period of 2017. 5 were women and 41 were men. By category, 8 were indigenous leaders, 3 Afro-descendant, 3 environments rights defenders and 32 community leaders. The perpetrators were 36% paramilitaries, 6% guerrillas, 4% the armed forces and in 55% of the cases unknown. Protection measures taken by the civil and military authorities are not working.

Outgoing President Santos issued a new law to protect human rights defenders and eight new measures to curb the killing of community leaders in July. These include a strengthening of the National Protection Unit, the creation of Basic Protection Units to provide collective security and new procedures to speed up the response from the Ministry of Defence. While these are positive moves, they follow other measure which are still to be implemented and depend on the follow through of the new President.

Ivan Duque was inaugurated as President on 7 August with a programme that is designed to modernise many institutions, take on corruption and focus on developing rural communities. He has promised to eradicate illicit crops such as coca and marijuana, both of which have seen a sharp increase in production in recent years. While in his inaugural address he promised to unify the country, there are fears that he might abrogate some provisions of the Peace Accord signed in 2016 with the FARC rebels.

As HRDs (human rights defenders) and PSVI (prevent sexual violence initiative) are priority areas of the UK’s relationship with Colombia, the UK embassy in Bogotá has taken a number of measures to help human rights organisations on both issues. The UK is also financing activities to monitor human rights, help in the country’s development in the conflict zones and support the peace agreement.

Richard Solly of the London Mining Network reports   on the horrendous conditions under which local communities live as a result of the huge La Guajira coalmine and its railway to the coast. Community leaders live under death threats. The mine owners are repeatedly failing to live up to past agreements. The owners are three companies listed on the London Stock Exchange – Anglo American, BHP and Glencore.


Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are seeking international aid to help them cope with the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans entering their countries because of the economic crisis in Venezuela.  Brazil has sent armed forces to its border with Venezuela following violent clashes between local residents and Venezuelan migrants.  United Nations agencies have reported that the crisis is approaching a level comparable to the influx of refugees in the Mediterranean.

All the best,

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