Chilean President Proposes Legalization of Same Sex Marriage One Week After Legalization of Abortion

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch News Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – About a week after Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal officially approved a law lessening the country’s restrictions on abortion, President Michelle Bachelet has introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage. Chile previously decriminalized gay sex in 1999 and approved civil unions in 2015. If approved, the measure would redefine the country’s definition of marriage, and expand the rights of gay couples by allowing them to adopt children. It would also recognize the marriages of same sex couples married abroad.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet holds aloft the portfolio containing the proposal for legislation to legalize same sex marriage. Photo courtesy of Associated Press. 

After passage of a bill decriminalizing abortion under certain circumstances, a few legislators requested review of the law before the Constitutional Tribunal claiming that it would violate the Chilean constitution’s guarantee of protection of the unborn. On August 21st, the ten justices voted six to four in favor of the legislation, which replaced a law passed in the last years of the Pinochet dictatorship. Currently, women may now legally get an abortion in the country when the mother’s life is in danger, the fetus is unviable, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape.

On August 28, President Michelle Bachelet signed a proposal to legalize gay marriage in the country, which now goes to the legislature to decide on. In signing the proposal, President Bachelet said, “We can’t let old prejudices be stronger than love.” Though civil unions have been recognized in several South American countries, only Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Columbia have thus far legalized same sex marriage, with the latter two legalizing it through court rulings.

With her term ending in March 2018 though, President Bachelet is unlikely to see the bill passed. One of her potential successors, former president Sebastian Pinera, who polls at the time of writing this article have favored to win the upcoming November election, opposes the bill. In a statement to the BBC, he said, “There should not be discrimination, but at the same time the essence of an institution such as marriage should be respected, which has always been about conserving the human race.” Still though, gay rights activists within the country are celebrating the move as historic.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Chile leader sends gay marriage bill to congress – Aug 29, 2017

The Guardian – ‘Essential rights’: Chile’s President Bachelet introduces gay marriage bill – Aug 29, 2017

ABC – Chile’s Bachelet presents gay marriage bill – Aug 28, 2017

New York Times – Chilean Tribunal Weighs In: Some Abortions Will Now Be Legal – Aug 21, 2017

UN Report Denounces “Extensive” Human Rights Abuses By Venezuelan Government As Opposition Leader’s Wife Is Barred From Leaving Country

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch News Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The United Nations has released a report chastising the Venezuelan government over extensive human rights violations committed in the wake of anti-government protests. Additionally, Venezuelan authorities have opened an investigation into Lilian Tintori, the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, after allegedly discovering a large amount of cash in her car. She has since been barred from traveling outside the country to attend meetings with European leaders scheduled for the week of September 3rd-9th.

Lilian Tintori demonstrates a picture of jailed anti-government protestors in a meeting with foreign journalists. Photo courtesy of AP.

The UN report documents the systematic use of excessive force during demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of protesters, noting that all evidence indicates that these were not the actions of a few isolated officials. It calls on the UN Human Rights Council, of which Venezuela is a member, to take measures to prevent the human rights situation from worsening. Venezuela’s government has slammed the report as shoddy and biased, though the report says that victims’ accounts were consistent and corroborated by medical reports and NGO reports.

The report also indicates that of the 124 deaths linked to the protests, security forces are allegedly responsible for 46, while pro-government armed groups are responsible for 27. More than 5,000 people have been detained since the protests began in April, with 1,000 still being held.

On Thursday, August 31st, Venezuelan authorities discovered around 200 million bolivars, equal to about $60,000, on the nation’s weakest official exchange rate or $10,000 on the more commonly used black market rate, in the car of Lilian Tintori. It’s unclear what crimes she has being investigated for, since possession of cash in Venezuela is not a crime. However, Tintori is convinced that the actions are government sanctioned persecution targeted towards her.

She also claims that the money was to pay for emergencies, including the hospitalization of her grandmother. Tintori claims that cash was necessary since inflation has decimated the value of Venezuela’s currency, and because no bank would give a credit card or open an account for the wife of an opposition leader. She has also since been banned from leaving the country, a move that came a day after she was ordered to appear before a judge on September 5th.  Tintori was expected to travel to Europe to convince leaders there to institute sanctions against Venezuela.

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Venezuelan Opposition Activist Says She Was Barred From Traveling to Europe – 2 Sept, 2017

Fox News – UN rips Venezuelan human rights abuses, as government orders opposition leader’s wife to court – 2 Sept, 2017

ABC – Venezuela probes wife of opposition’s Lopez for cash in car – 1 Sept, 2017

United Nations News Centre – Human rights violations indicate repressive policy of Venezuelan authorities – 30 Aug, 2017

Chile Faces Final Obstacle in Reforming Draconian Abortion Law From the Pinochet Era

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – In the early days of August 2017, and after two years of debate, lawmakers in Chile overwhelmingly approved a dramatic change in the country’s abortion laws allowing women to terminate a pregnancy under certain conditions. Before becoming law however, the Constitutional Tribunal must approve of the law.

A woman participates in a pro-abortion march in Santiago, Chile. Photo courtesy of AP.

Currently, Chile has an absolute ban on abortion in all circumstances. Abortions were originally allowed for medical reasons in Chile since 1931, but in 1989 during the last years of the Pinochet dictatorship the ban was implemented and has remained law ever since. Anyone who participates in an abortion could serve up to 15 years in prison, although in recent years courts have tended to order therapy rather than incarceration for the women involved. Between 2010 and 2014 there were nearly 500 people charged and 73 convictions for abortion related offenses, 12 of which are men currently serving prison sentences.

The new law would only allow for abortion in certain circumstances such as if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, or if the fetus is not viable, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape. If a pregnancy may endanger a woman’s life however, abortion would not be allowed. It’s only when the woman’s health is in danger that the law would allow her to get an abortion, and even then, only after requiring the opinion of two doctors.

According to a survey poll taken last month about 70% of Chileans support the change in the country’s abortion laws. Approximately 60,000 – 70,000 illegal abortions are performed each year in Chile. Despite this, the new law has its share of opposition which forced it to be referred to the Constitutional Tribunal.

However, whether the law will be approved by the Constitutional Tribunal is uncertain. Even though proponents seek to argue that it is a human right to be able to have an abortion, opponents point to a clause in Chile’s constitution which protects the life of the unborn. However if the ban is approved it will end Chile’s status as the only South American country with an outright ban on abortion.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Thrust Into Chile’s Abortion Fight, Women Who Urged Change May See It – 17 Aug, 2017

The Guardian – Endgame nears in Chile president’s fight to temper draconian abortion ban – 16 Aug, 2017

CNN – Chilean lawmakers vote to ease abortion ban – 3 Aug, 2017

New York Times – Chile’s Congress Approves Abortion In Limited Cases – 3 Aug, 2017

Argentine Man Disappears After Detention by the Government and Citizens Demand Information

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The government of Argentina is currently being accused of “disappearing” a human rights activist named Santiago Maldonado on August 1st. On Friday August 11th, thousands of people marched through the capital demanding information regarding the whereabouts of Maldonado. The disappearance of Maldonado after being detained by Argentine border police, aka the National Gendarmerie, brings back painful memories for many of the dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983 and “disappeared” around 30,000 people.

Protestors march through Buenos Aires with Santiago Maldonado’s picture and the message “Appear alive now” as they demand answers regarding his disappearance. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

Santiago Maldonado was taking part in a protest supporting the land claims of the indigenous Mapuche Indians when he was allegedly grabbed and detained by border police for blocking a road along with other protestors. The Mapuche Indians were being evicted from lands in Patagonia owned by the Italian clothing company Benetton, and used to produce wool, but which they’ve claimed as being their ancestral lands and have occupied since 2015. According to the human rights group Center for Legal and Social Studies, on the day Maldonado appeared about 100 government agents entered the indigenous community shooting rubber and lead bullets. Maldonado and the other protestors were also demanding the release of Facundo Jones Huala, a Mapuche leader currently imprisoned for illegal possession of firearms and wanted in Chile on charges of terrorism. However, Argentine activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his defense of human rights during the dictatorship, has accused the current government of repressing indigenous peoples.

Since Maldonado went missing Argentine authorities have denied any wrongdoing and even offered a $27,000 reward for information on his location. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has also said that there’s no indication the border police captured Maldonado, or that he was even at the protests.

However, his family as well as other witnesses claim that he was there and was detained. In addition to the thousands of civilians who marched through Buenos Aires, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances has expressed concern for Maldonado’s health and demanded action from the Argentine government. On Monday August 7th, a protest demanding Maldonado’s safe return had turned violent when protestors hurled Molotov cocktails at police, attacked a journalist and smashed the window of a television van. There are presently no indications that the August 11th protest was similarly violent.

For more information, please see:

Reuters (UK) – Thousands of Argentines march to demand answers on missing protestor – 11 Aug, 2017

The Guardian – Argentina activist missing after indigenous people evicted from Benetton land – 8 Aug, 2017

Washington Post – Argentina rights groups demand info on missing activist – 8 Aug, 2017

Peruvian Court Convicts Fromer Officers of Human Rights Abuses and Indigenous Leaders Demand Consultation

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – A court has convicted two former military officers of human rights abuses for their role in the torture and murder of civilians in 1983 during a conflict between the government and the Maoist Shining Path rebel group. Recently indigenous tribal leaders have vowed to block the government from accessing their territories and halt oil production unless an indigenous rights law is applied within 20 days.

Carlos Sandi, president of the Amazon’s native communities of the Corrientes basin, complains that his people’s rights aren’t being respected. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The case against the former military officers had dragged on for a decade, and resulted in only two convictions thus far, with a third officer cleared due to lack of evidence and suspended sentences for two others due to their dementia. One of the surviving victims of the torture unfortunately died before the verdict came in. The two officers who were convicted were sentenced to 23 and 30 years respectively, however they did not appear in court for their sentencing and authorities are seeking their arrest. The country of Peru was also found to be partially responsible for the crimes and as such has been ordered by the court to pay reparations to the families of the victims. In addition to murder and torture of around 53 people, those in charge at the military base of Los Cabitos used an oven to burn the bodies of their victims.

During the 20-year conflict between the Peruvian government and the Maoist Shining Path rebel group that began in 1980, about 69,000 people were killed or went missing. Seventy five percent of those who were killed were indigenous peoples.

In recent days, tribal leaders have accused the current Peruvian government of refusing to carry out a consultation process even though the government is negotiating a new contract with Frontera Energy, whose current contract expires in 2019. Currently there exists a law, passed in 2011, which requires the government to seek the informed consent of the indigenous people before undergoing any development which may affect them. However, the government has not confirmed whether another consultation would happen, stating that one which had taken place during 2015 was still valid. Even though a consultation would not veto the project if indigenous leaders say no, tribal leaders have threatened to cut off access to their territories from both the government and oil companies if the demand is not met.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Peru tribal leaders vow to halt oil output unless indigenous rights respected – 27 Aug, 2017

teleSUR – Peru Court Convicts 2 in Military Human Rights Abuse Case – 19 Aug, 2017

Reuters – Peru court convicts two of human rights abuses at military base – 18 Aug, 2017

Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly is Sworn in Despite Allegations of Fraud and Authoritarian Acts

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Sunday July 30th, 2017, Venezuela changed dramatically. As some protested, other Venezuelans voted in an election to create a Constituent Assembly, with the power to rewrite their country’s constitution, and perhaps most importantly, to oust the current opposition-led National Assembly. The election has since been deemed a fraud, and in the days since the new constituent assembly, the government of Nicolas Maduro have increasingly been engaging in increased unapologetically authoritarian acts.

Former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega is prevented from entering the Public Prosecutor’s office in Caracas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

According to the Venezuelan government, over 8 million people voted in the election, however an independent exit poll puts the turnout at half that number. Additionally, the company that makes the machines which were used in the election has publicly stated that the results were off by at least 1 million people. Two weeks prior, according to opposition leaders, around 7 million people voted in an unofficial referendum to keep the current constitution. Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela’s now former attorney general, was fired by the Assembly in its first session on August 5th, 2017 after promising that she would investigate accusations of voter fraud surrounding the election.

The Venezuelan government has also jailed two critics of Maduro, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma. The two men have been accused of planning to flee the country and of violating their house arrests by making political statements and speaking to media. They were abducted from their homes in nighttime raids by security forces. Ledezma was released on August 4th, and placed back on house arrest. Additionally, two of the judges appointed by the National Assembly to an alternative Supreme Court have taken refuge in the Chilean Embassy and may seek asylum.

Protests and violence raged rampant in the streets during the election, with estimates of those killed in clashes with authorities ranging from 7 to 12 people. One of the candidates in the election was also killed in his home.

As of writing this article the Constituent Assembly has not yet dissolved the current National Assembly. Among the new leaders in the Constituent Assembly are Maduro’s wife and son. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly however, have pledged to remain in power regardless of what actions the Constituent Assembly takes, setting up the possibility of two governing bodies, each not recognizing the other.

For more information, please see:

NBC – Venezuela’s New Constituent Assembly Ousts Anti-Maduro Prosecutor Luisa Ortega – 5 August, 2017

New York Times – Venezuela’s New Leaders Begin Their March Towards Total Control – 4 August, 2017

CNN – Controversial Venezuelan vote to be investigated, attorney general says – 3 August, 2017

Time – Venezuela Heads Toward a Showdown As New Assembly Prepares to Convene – 3 August, 2017 

CBS – Voting machine firm: Venezuela vote rigged “without any doubt” – 2 August, 2017

Reuters – Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents –  1 August, 2017

ABC (Aus) – Venezuela election: Deadly protests mar ballot as voters snub Maduro constituent assembly – 31 July, 2017

CNN – Deadly election day in Venezuela as protestors clash with troops – 30 July, 2017

 

 

Face of Venezuela’s Protests Injured as Opposition Resists Maduro’s Planned Rewrite of Constitution

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Protests continue across Venezuela, with more on the way, as citizens attempt to stop President Maduro from rewriting the nation’s constitution. According to opposition members, millions voted against such a thing in an unofficial vote held last week, and millions more participated in a nationwide strike which paralyzed the country, protesting the rewrite. Meanwhile, the Maduro administration has continued to respond to the protests with violent means.

Venezuelan protestor Wuilly Arteaga, playing his violin during protests against President Nicolas Maduro. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

The opposition controlled National Assembly also attempted to replace the nation’s Supreme Court with 33 appointees of their own, however the already existing Court has since declared the move to be void, and inferred that it could result in charges of treason. One of these appointees has already been detained by the Maduro government, and authorities have threatened others with arrest and trial before military courts as well. Since the National Assembly had sworn in lawmakers whose elections were suspended for supposed voting irregularities, the Court maintains that any action the legislature takes is illegal.

A protest held on July 22nd, had a few thousand protestors trying to reach the Supreme Court, however it’s unclear whether this was connected specifically to the Court’s action, or just a general protest of Maduro’s attempt to rewrite the constitution. Several protestors were injured, including violinist Wuilly Arteaga, who has become a symbol of the protests for playing the national anthem and other tunes on his instrument as hectic protests occur around him. Authorities in the country have routinely used rubber bullets and tear gas against the protestors for the past four months, causing the deaths of 97 people and injuring thousands.

Meanwhile, a Venezuelan diplomat, Isaias Medina, has resigned from his post at the UN in protest of the actions taken by the Maduro government, urging Maduro to step down in the process. The opposition party is also currently boycotting the elections for the Constitutional Assembly, which would be charged with rewriting the constitution, proclaiming the votes as a sham since the rules are apparently designed to give Maduro’s government a majority. Maduro plans to put 232,000 soldiers on the streets to assure that the Constitutional Assembly goes ahead.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Venezuelans protest Maduro’s plan to rewrite constitution -22 July, 2017

The Guardian – ‘I will be back’: Violin-playing face of Venezuela’s protests injured in clash – 22 July, 2017

teleSUR – Supreme Court Declares Opposition’s Naming of Judges Invalid – 21 July, 2017

New Jersey Herald – Venezuela diplomat says he resigned to protest Maduro acts – 20 July, 2017

Brazil Deploys Troops to Rio to Quell Crime Problem After Protest Over Police Deaths

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – After a police officer was killed in the Vidigal favela, police officers and their families began protesting the rising levels of violence. So far, approximately ninety-one police officers have been killed in the Rio state. Brazil’s government has deployed as many as 8,500 soldiers to the city, and is set to deploy up to 10,000, to help abate its crime problem.

Brail deploys 10,000 troops to deal with a surge in violent crime. Photo courtesy of Getty Images (from 2016).

Violence has been rising in the area since the end of the Olympics, and Brazil is currently experiencing the worst recession in its history. Corruption also rages rampant among government officers. An average of three people per day have been killed by stray bullets in the first six months of this year alone. This is in addition to alleged human rights abuses by the police, who caused the deaths of more than 800 people last year. In the first two months of this year alone the number of killings by Rio police were at 182, 78 percent more than at the same point last year.

The protestors, who gathered at the seafront in Copacabana complained about their loved ones trying to stem the tide of violence with few resources. They also deride the fact that the hard work of honest policemen isn’t given as much attention as alleged human rights abuses, and the officers themselves have been fighting to change the penal code to punish the killings of police officers more harshly.

A few weeks prior however, residents of Rio’s favelas packed the same area, pleading for an end to the lethal shootouts between drug traffickers and police. That protest came after a pregnant mother and her child were both seriously injured in a crossfire that took place in one of these shantytowns on the outskirts of Rio.

Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann has said that the soldiers would soon begin participating in operations against drug traffickers, a departure from their previously limited role in patrolling, manning checkpoints, and recovering weapons seized during raids. Due to President Michel Temer’s decree, the troops can remain in the city up until the end of 2018. While their efforts are focused on the city’s north side, where the violence has been more pervasive, armored vehicles also patrolled other, quieter areas in the city.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – Brazil sends troops to Rio de Janeiro to fight organized crime – 29 July, 2017

ABC News – Troops deploy in Rio de Janeiro amid increasing violence – 28 July, 2017

BBC – Rio de Janeiro begins deploying 10,000 troops to fight crime surge – 28 July, 2017

BBC – Rio de Janeiro: Police protest over rising Brazil violence – 23 July, 2017

Al Jazeera – Rio’s favela residents protest against killings – 2 July, 2017

Peru Ponders Pardon for Former President As Tragedy Unveils Slavery Like Conditions for Peruvian Workers

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

LIMA, Peru – At least 2,000 Peruvian citizens protested July 7th, urging President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski not to pardon the country’s ex-leader Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving 25 years in prison for human rights violations.

Protesters in Peru display photos of victims as they march against a possible pardon for former president Alberto Fujimori. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

One of President Kuczynski’s chief promises that allowed him to win the election against Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, was that he wouldn’t pardon Fujimori. However, Kuczynski proposed a potential pardon for Fujimori last month for health reasons, just after Kuczynski’s finance minister was ousted by a Congress dominated by Fujimori’s supporters.

Fujimori held office from 1990-2000, and was convicted in 2009 for leading groups which had massacred civilians and kidnapped journalists during his tenure. Despite this, Fujimori has an enormous amount of support due to his role in fixing Peru’s economy and stopping a bloody leftist insurgency. In fact, a May Ipsos poll found that 59 percent of Peruvians back a humanitarian release for him.

President Kuczynski meanwhile, has said that he will follow the recommendation of the doctors evaluating Fujimori, as to whether a pardon should be given for medical reasons. However, in 2013 a medical team which was then evaluating Fujimori said his condition didn’t warrant a pardon, so it is possible that history will repeat itself.

On June 27th, President Kuczynski had condemned the conditions some workers were living in after a fire killed four people imprisoned inside a shipping container by their boss. They had been locked inside to prevent theft, and detection by municipal inspectors. Since then Peru’s public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into human trafficking and labor exploitation. The International Labor Organization described the conditions in which the workers died and 17 others were injured as akin to modern day slavery.

After only Mexico and Colombia, Peru has the third highest rate of cases of forced labor and human trafficking in the region and is 18th worldwide, per the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index. Jorge Toyama, a labor lawyer, claims that the country only has 500 labor inspectors when it needs four times as many, and that many workers in Peru are not aware of their rights.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Peruvians protest against possible pardon for jailed Fujimori – 7 July, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Peru: Don’t Give Fujimori Special Treatment – 6 July, 2017

The Guardian – Peru launches investigation as fire kills workers ‘locked inside container’ – 27 June, 2017

Venezuela’s Attorney General Banned From Leaving Country

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – On June 28th the Venezuelan Supreme Court, controlled by Maduro loyalists, froze the assets of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and have banned her from leaving the country. The United Nations expressed concern over this act, and urged the Venezuelan government to abide by the rule of law and allow for peaceful protests. Attorney General Diaz stood against Maduro’s government in March when the Supreme Court attempted to strip the opposition controlled Congress of its powers. She has also recently accused Maduro’s government of committing “state terrorism” based on the response of authorities to antigovernment protests. Her court hearing is currently scheduled for July 4th. Attorney General Diaz has also asked the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for protection.

Luisa Ortega Diaz who has recently become a critic of the Maduro government, and was barred from travel by the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of BBC.

The Supreme Court of Venezuela has also attempted to strip Attorney General Diaz’s powers by giving Tarek William Saab, a Maduro loyalist and ombudsman, the ability to conduct criminal investigations. Diaz has rejected the ruling, claiming that it gives the power to investigate human rights abuses to the abusers themselves.

A day after this, Attorney General Diaz’s office officially charged Antonio Benavides, the former head of Venezuela’s National Guard, with human rights abuses after months of protests have left approximately 80 people dead. Ortega’s office has claimed that abuses by police are responsible for 23 of those deaths. Benavides was removed from his post last week, but since then he has been reassigned as head of Venezuela’s Capital District government. He was also one of seven individuals sanctioned in 2015 by then US President Barack Obama for human rights abuses.

Approximately one year ago, an American named Josh Holt was arrested in Venezuela on weapons charges. Although, because he hasn’t been given any preliminary hearings makes US officials doubt the reasons behind his detention. Holt had traveled to Venezuela to marry Thamara Candelo, a woman he had met online while practicing his Spanish. Currently, all that’s known is that he’s being held in a prison run by Venezuela’s intelligence police. Maduro has blamed the United States for the protests within his country, although whether this is the reasoning remains to be seen.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph – Venezuela’s chief prosecutor asks Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for protection – 1 July, 2017

Santa Fe New Mexican – Utah man stuck in Venezuela jail – 30 June, 2017

The Atlantic – Venezuela’s Ex-Security Chief Charged With Human Rights Violations – 30 June, 2017

UN News Centre – Venezuela bans Attorney General from leaving country; UN rights office voices concern – 30 June, 2017

BBC – Venezuela crisis: Attorney general banned from leaving country – 29 June, 2017

Another Murder of Social Leader in Colombia Adds to Disturbing Trend As the Country Feels Aftereffects of the Peace Treaty with FARC

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Over the past year at least 41 human rights activists and social leaders have been murdered in Colombia with the number of possible deaths reaching as high as 100. The latest victim of the disturbing trend is Jose Maria Lemus, a local leader of indigenous people. Back in May the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights confirmed 14 murders of human rights defenders, a difficult process in part because there is disagreement over who is to be considered a human rights leader. The only thing people seem to agree upon is that the number of murders of human rights leaders is higher than in previous years.

Colombian protestors hold inflatables to represent the number of human rights activists and social leaders killed so far. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The attacks are concentrated in areas previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who famously signed a peace treaty with the Colombian government back in 2016. Since then, the power vacuum has been left to be filled by a variety of criminal groups. In taking control over these areas it is believed that a major reason for the deaths of these activists and leaders is because they are a threat to the criminals. The vacuum had such devastating consequences that in February, residents of the Choco region begged the country’s only remaining guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), to take over the vacuum.

Currently within the Choco region ELN is competing against the paramilitary group Gaitanist Self-defenses of Colombia (AGC) over stretches of the San Juan River, a conflict which has been going on for years. Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of numerous human rights abuses by both sides including but not limited to killings, child recruitment, planting landmines, and other threats. Approximately 1/5th of the people living in Litoral de San Juan were displaced by the violence in 2016, and during the first two months of 2017 that number went up by 1,300 people.

One of the places citizens have fled to is the city of Buenaventura, a place embroiled in problems of its own. In mid-May, there were protests by citizens of the city seeking better living conditions, which after the protesters’ demands were ignored by the government erupted into chaos. Even with the Colombian riot police in the city, and reports of looting, some peaceful protesting is continuing in the city.

For more information, please see:

teleSUR – Another Social Leader Murdered in Colombia – 14 June, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Colombia: Armed Groups Oppress Riverside Communities – 7 June, 2017

Atlanta Black Star – Afro-Colombian City Burns In Protest As Citizens Fight for Basic Human Rights – 1 June, 2017

BBC – Why has Colombia seen a rise in activist murders – 19 May, 2017

The Guardian – Colombia death toll rises as gangs fill vacuum left by Farc rebels – 18 February, 2017

Chile Convicts 106 in One of the Country’s Largest Mass Prosecutions, Declines to Investigate Unlawful Detention of Indigenous Peoples Activist

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – 106 former intelligence agents were sentenced by Judge Hernan Cristoso, in one of the largest mass prosecutions for human rights abuses. The agents were sentenced for their roles in the disappearances of 16 leftist militants during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973-1990. 13 additional agents who had been charged were absolved from sentencing by the Chilean Judiciary. The sentences range from just over a year and a half to 20 years.

Dictator Augusto Pinochet, who controlled Chile from 1973-1990, and was responsible for the torture and deaths of thousands of people. Photo courtesy of AFP.

The abducted militants were reportedly sent to various torture and detention centers in Santiago between June 1974 and January 1975, and were never seen alive again. Their deaths were then covered up by the Chilean secret police by planting stories in foreign newspapers to imply that they had been killed fighting abroad as a way of absolving the government. Approximately 3,000 people disappeared and 30,000 were tortured during Pinochet’s rule. The disappearances were a part of Operation Condor, conducted by Chile in league with other South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil, which resulted in tens of thousands of activist deaths across the region. It was also motivated by the freshly established Pinochet government to consolidate its power.

Many of the agents who were convicted were already serving sentences for the human rights abuses they had committed. Also among those convicted were two former generals, Cesar Manriquez Bravo and Raul Iturriaga Neumann.

In addition to the criminal penalties for those involved, the current Chilean government was also ordered to pay 5 million Chilean pesos, equivalent to 7.5 million dollars, to the families of the victims as compensation.

Chile has also been criticized recently by Amnesty International for the decision by its Temuco Public Prosecutors Office to close an investigation into the unlawful detention of Victor Queipul Hueiquil, an activist for the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. Victor was reportedly detained for an entire day when police carried out an operation on the land of the Autonomous Community of Temucuicui. During the time of his detention he was allegedly blindfolded, tied up, and beaten while being interrogated.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Chile: Closure of investigation into crimes against Mapuche leader puts indigenous people at risk – 17 May, 2017

BBC – Chilean judge sends 106 former secret agents to prison – 2 June, 2017

CNN – Chile convicts 106 former intelligence agents – 3 June, 2017

teleSUR – Chile Judge Jails 106 Ex-Agents of Pinochet Dictatorship – 3 June, 2017

UPI – Chile judge sentences 106 intelligence agents for kidnappings – 3 June, 2017

Members of Venezuelan Government Opposition Barred From Travel and Protests Intensify as Maduro Seeks to Change Constitution

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela -Paulina Facchin, a representative of the Venezuelan opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democratica in Peru, was barred back in January from getting her Venezuelan passport for the charge of “inciting hatred”. Ms. Facchin had previously done an interview with Peruvian press in which she was deeply critical of the current crisis in Venezuela, and had driven around an opposition legislator during his visit there. Then in mid-May, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition party Henrique Capriles was barred from travelling to New York to meet with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein.

A protestor brandishes a molotov cocktail during a march by healthcare workers. Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

The protests in Venezuela meanwhile, have only grown more violent and out of control. In one example, a lynch mob drenched a person in gasoline and lit them on fire. The violence of the protestors has been met by the government with escalating deadly force. At least 55 people on both sides have been killed in the past seven weeks, with more than a thousand injured. However, it should be noted that the protestors have largely been peaceful, and the ones causing violence appear to be in the minority.

As his people protest in the street, Maduro is seeking to put together a constituent assembly to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. Critics however, fear that his success in doing so would only further escalate the violence

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Harassing Opposition Activists Abroad – 30 May, 2017

Washington Post – Venezuela is sliding into anarchy – 24 May, 2017

UN News Centre – Venezuela: UN human rights chief regrets opposition leader being blocked to travel – 19 May, 2017

Brazil Mobilizes Military to Quell Protests, Revokes Order a Day Later

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil – On May 24th Brazilian president Michel Temer ordered federal troops to quell the protests which had taken over the capital of his country. The protests had begun turning violent with the vandalism of several government buildings, including the agricultural ministry which was set on fire by the protestors. The next day President Temer revoked his order after a wave of criticism against it, comparing the move to the sort of actions taken during Brazil’s military dictatorship which lasted from 1964-1985. Temer still defended the decision as within his rights as the President.

Police attempt to quell a protest in Brazil. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

The protests in question began as the result of a disclosed recording between President Temer and a beef tycoon, in which the tycoon, Mr. Joesley Batista, implicated himself in the bribery of several public officials as well as obstruction of justice. President Temer never revealed this information to authorities, and seemed to approve of the bribe in the recording. Separately, President Temer is also being investigated for obstruction of justice and corruption, and Mr. Batista has also claimed to have bribed him. Calls for President Temer to resign or for impeachment proceedings to begin were the main call of the protestors. However, resignation seems unlikely, since as President, Temer has a certain amount of immunity from prosecution while in that official role. Also, despite the recording, President Temer insists that he did nothing wrong.

Images have also surfaced of the Brazilian police firing weapons. As a result, many were injured. The Secretariat of Public Security said only that it would be investigating the photos.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Scandal in Brazil Raises Fear of Turmoil’s Return – 19 May, 2017

New York Times – Brazil’s President Deploys Federal Troops to Quell Protests – 24 May, 2017

New York Daily News – Troops pull out of Brazil capital; president under pressure – 25 May 2017

 

Court Decision Could Allow Early Release of Human Rights Criminals

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – On May 3, the Argentinian Supreme Court rendered a decision allowing Luis Muina, convicted of human rights abuses, to have his sentence reduced. The decision was based on an Argentinian law, known as the “2×1″ law, which mandates that, after an initial two years, every day that a person spends in pretrial detention counts as two as part of the overall sentence. The court found that, under the “most favorable law” legal principle, which dictates that defendants should benefit from laws which would lessen their sentences, that it should apply to him retroactively.

Thousands of people in Argentina protest the ruling of their Supreme Court which could allow human rights abusers to go free early. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

In the week that followed there were protests in Argentina, as many reportedly feared that the decision would free other human rights criminals. However, the country’s Congress quickly responded to the decision by passing a law rescinding the 2×1 law’s protections for those who had committed human rights abuses during the country’s military dictatorship from 1976-1983. Currently there are 350 former military officers who could have potentially benefitted if the decision is allowed to stand.

Critics point to the Court’s decision as an example of how Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s government has toned down its efforts to seek justice for the atrocities committed during the dictatorship. It should be noted that two of the justices who ruled in favor of the decision were appointed by President Macri.

Whether the Argentine government’s solution will work is set to be tested within the next month as their Supreme Court is set to issue decisions on other cases involving human rights criminals.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Fury in Argentina over ruling that could see human rights abusers walk free – 4 May, 2017

New York Daily News – Argentines unite against law helping human rights abusers – 10 May, 2017

New York Times – Argentines Fight Court’s Leniency for Human Rights Crimes – 13 May, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Making Sense of Argentina’s Ruling on Dictatorship-Era Crimes – 15 May, 2017