South America Newsletter September 2019

This month, we report on continuing extreme violence in Colombia, including murders, against Indigenous people and Human Rights Defenders as the peace agreement shows further signs of unravelling.  In Brazil, the wildfires in the Amazon illustrate the risks from the Bolsonaro government’s weakening of environmental protections and Indigenous peoples’ territorial rights, while there is also concern that new public security measures will increase violence against those most at risk.  The Human Rights Council will vote this month on a proposal for a Commission of Inquiry on Venezuela, while there is concern that new US sanctions will exacerbate the impact of the economic crisis and lead to increased human rights violations.  Argentina is in the midst of a serious economic crisis and President Macri is facing likely defeat at the Presidential elections next month.  We briefed officials at the UK’s Department for International Trade who are negotiating trade agreements with countries in the region. There is an Urgent Action and a petition on Colombia and you can still sign the petition on Venezuela.


On 20 August, David and Graham were invited to the Department for International Trade to brief officials about human rights issues in Latin America.  This was an excellent opportunity to ensure that government officials are aware of the human rights issues that need to be considered when negotiating trade agreements with the countries of the region.


Iván Márquez, the second highest ranking member of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla group, has announced in a video his return to armed opposition to the Colombian state. Márquez, whose whereabouts have been a mystery since July 2018, was the leading negotiator of the Peace Accord with the administration of President Santos. The precarious state in which former FARC guerrillas live is described in this recent article in The Nation.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Colombia has called on the Colombian authorities to protect the Nasa indigenous people and guarantee their physical and cultural survival. Since the beginning of the year, 36 Nasa people have been killed and 53 have received death threats. Six of those killed were members of the human rights NGO the Cxhab Wala Kiwe Association of Indigenous Councils of north Cauca department.

This coincides with Colombia’s Congress summoning the government of President Iván Duque to explain what it has done to curb extreme levels of violence against the country’s indigenous peoples in south western Cauca.

Native Colombians have seen extreme violence following the demobilization of the FARC guerrilla group in 2017. According to ONIC (the National Organisation of Indigenous Colombians), 37,000 indigenous Colombians have suffered aggression since the signing of the Peace Accord in 2016, half of them since President Duque was inaugurated in August 2018. 31,000 of the aggressions took place against indigenous inhabitants of Chocó.

You can sign Amnesty’s petition urging President Duque to protect thousands at risk of death or displacement in the Chocó by clicking here.

‘Armed groups have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight for control in Catatumbo, north eastern Colombia,’ Human Rights Watch said in a 64-page report released 8 August. This documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by three guerrilla groups: the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Amnesty has issued a second Urgent Action on behalf of Danelly Estupiñan. Following a break in at Danelly’s home, various human rights organisations have reported that unknown people made a payment to kill her. The Black Community Process and other organizations alerted the Prosecutor’s Office about the attack. Danelly’s life is in danger and Amnesty requests immediate action by the Prosecutor’s Office. Please write to the authorities with a copy to Mr Antonio José Ardila, Colombian Ambassador to the UK, 3 Hans Crescent London SW1X 0LN.


In response to the  news of the wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, Amnesty has called on President Bolsonaro and his government to change their disastrous policy of opening up the rainforest for destruction.  Earlier this year Amnesty documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near Indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondônia state where many of the fires are raging.

Deforestation in the territories Amnesty visited has doubled this year compared to the same time period in 2018 because of illegal invaders who are felling trees, starting forest fires and attacking Indigenous communities living there. Despite this, President Bolsonaro has deliberately sought to weaken protections of the rainforest and undermine the rights of the one million Indigenous Peoples who live there. 

CNN has reported that environmental organisations and researchers say the wildfires blazing in the Brazilian rainforest were set  by cattle ranchers and loggers who want to clear and utilise the land, emboldened by the country’s pro-business president.

Front Line Defenders have reported that on 7 August 2019, residents of the Marisa Letícia Commune, which is organised by the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in São Gonçalo do Amarante, Rio Grande do Norte, were forcefully evicted by the Military Police, without previous notification. The 140 families that lived in the Commune remain displaced.

Open Democracy have reported that the Bolsonaro administration has introduced several modifications to the current public security policy  which have the capacity to take the already alarming levels of violence against black women and favela residents to a new record level.

These measures boil down to two significant changes in the current legislation: the flexibilisation of the legal requirements for purchasing and carrying firearms, implemented through two presidential decrees, and the relaxation of the penalties for excesses committed by security agents, presented in the context of a package of measures for public security and currently in progress in the Brazilian Congress.

UN News reported on 19 August that the UN refugee chief was impressed with Brazil’s ‘exemplary’ response to the plight of fleeing Venezuelans. The UN refugee chief has also said that the sheer number of those on the run is proving to be a major challenge, calling for greater international support.


Amnesty, together with 10 other Venezuelan and international human rights organisations, has intensified its campaign to persuade the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry on Venezuela during its 42nd session this month.   If you haven’t yet signed the petition, you can still do so here.

Amnesty has expressed its concern over the latest sanctions imposed upon Venezuelan governmental entities by the US government, warning that the expansion of the scope of sanctions to all governmental authorities and entities intensifies the risk of increased human rights violations and further movement of Venezuelans out of the country.

According to The Guardian, the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has been urged to draw on his experience as a former Foreign Office human rights lawyer to press the legal case that the Maduro government has systematically tortured its people. The call was led by the prominent Venezuela human rights defender Tamara Sujú who visited London to persuade the UK to join six non-European countries in pressuring the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue a case against the Venezuelan leadership.


Amidst a fully blown financial crisis, the Argentine Finance Minister has asked for a restructuring of its international debt, inflation has soared to 55% and the peso has slumped by 23% against the US dollar in the last 19 days. President Macri lost the primary round election to Alberto Fernández, whose running mate is the controversial former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation to Alberto).  The presidential election will be held on 27 October.


Amnesty is monitoring the criminal proceedings against the human rights defender Ola Bini after identifying human rights violations and undue interference by the government.  It has called on the judiciary to ensure that any evidence used against Ola Bini has been obtained legally and in accordance with international law.

All the best,

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