Uruguay seats first transgender senator

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – On Tuesday, Michelle Suarez became the first transgender senator ever to be seated in Uruguay. She vows to use her position to expand and protect the rights of transgender people throughout South America.

Senator Michelle Suarez. Image Courtesy of Fox News.

The 34-year-old lawyer and activist assumed her seat in the upper chambers of Congress to represent the Communist Party. Her goal is to push a law that would let transgender people change their legal identities without needing the approval of a judge. The law would also mandate that the government set aside one percent of jobs for transgender people. Finally, a pension would be established to compensate transgender people who were persecuted during Uruguay’s decade under military dictatorship.

“Uruguay has evolved, but it’s still a discriminatory country,” Suarez told the Associated Press. With her position, she seeks to increase debate and action for LGBT rights within the Senate. Her top priority is drafting the Comprehensive Trans Act, which she co-authored, and will guarantee rights to people of all sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

Suarez revealed that she was fifteen when she acknowledged that she was a woman living in a male body. She attributes much of her success to her parents for accepting her. While growing up, she always had the support of her family but was discriminated against by classmates and teachers. “It was a tough time,” Suarez said. “People who knew me began to harass me.”

Regardless, she graduated high school with top grades and became the first transgender person to earn a law degree in the country of 33 million people. She began working as an activist for gender rights in 2009 as a way to cope with the loss of her mother.

Prior to gaining her seat, Suarez helped draft a bill that legalized gay marriage in 2013. She also worked as an activist and legal adviser for an LGBT rights organization, Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep).

The underlying attitude in Uruguay is still macho and fosters fierce resistance to LGBTQ issues. Suarez points out the prominent discrimination faced by Uruguay’s trans community of about 900 individuals. Because of it, gaining stable employment is difficult and many are pushed into sex work. Meanwhile, neighboring countries such as Argentina and Chile have started to make movements toward gender diversity.

“For the same facts, sayings, ways of feeling and thinking that at some point in my life I was harassed, persecuted and sanctioned, today I am applauded by many.” Suarez adds, “there has been positive change.”

For more information, please see:

Telesur – Lawyer and LGBT Activist to be Uruguay’s First Transgender Senator – 6 October 2017

Washington Post – Uruguay’s 1st transgender senator seated, vows protection – 10 October 2017

Fox News – Uruguay: first transgender senator assumes senate seat – 10 October 2017

El Observador – Michelle Suarez, the first trans senator in Uruguayan history – 10 October 2017

Columbian police open fire on protestors

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Hundreds of farmers and community members gathered to protest forced eradication of their coca crops when the peaceful demonstration turned into a massacre. As many as fifteen civilians were killed and 50 more were injured at the hands of Colombia’s own security forces.

Police enter Nariño to carry out forced eradication. Image Courtesy of Telesur.

Local reports say anti-narcotics police opened fire into the crowd of protestors on October 5. Between 300 and 1,000 unarmed farmers had gathered in a field of coca requesting to speak with the security forces and stop police from destroying their crop. President Santos has ordered further investigation into the event that occurred in Nariño, the rural area known as a key zone for growing coca.

As the largest producer of coca, a base element of cocaine, Colombia has thousands of farmers who rely on the crop.  The country’s new peace plan provides an opportunity for crop substitution. Over a thousand farmers signed an agreement with the government to participate in this program that will substitute their coca crop for legal ones. In exchange for ripping up their coca, the farmers will receive government investment in their community.

However, most coca farmers around Nariño are not yet included in this program and need their crop to feed their families. Although they intend to participate, anti-narcotics authorities will not wait and are forcing eradication of their crop. This premature eradication destroys their means of livelihood.

Several conflicting reports have been brought blaming different groups for the violence, but human rights organizations and locals of the area assure that it was the police who opened fire on the protesting farmers. They resorted to violence after a peaceful two-week protest in which the farmers refused to participate in coca eradication efforts. Local media reported on several protests in this highly coca dependent area, where about 1,000 locals demanded to be included in the national crop substitution program.

On the other hand, the Colombian government has indirectly blamed guerrilla rebels for inciting the incident. Hundreds of FARC rebels have refused to follow the group’s peace agreement and have formed their own organized crime factions dedicated to drug trafficking. Colombia’s Defense Ministry claims that the rebels threw five-cylinder bombs at members of security forces and the crowd of protestors.

There has been no evidence of this version of events and most witnesses deny it. They report escalating tension between the police and the protestors that resulted in “excessive and irrational action” by the police that was “a clear violation of human rights.”

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports – Southwest Colombia furious at security forces after ’15 killed’ in massacre – 6 October 2017

Reuters – At Least Six Die During Colombia Protest Over Coca Crop Removal – 6 October 2017

Colombia Reports – Military massacre in southwest Colombia?  At least 8 killed, 18 injured in coca protest – 6 October 2017

Fox News – 4 killed in clashes with Colombia coca growers, eradicators – 6 October 2017

Telesur – Colombians Mobilize Against Police Killing of 8 Campesinos – 5 October 2017

President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee Arrested for Corruption

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On October 5th, 2017, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the Brazilian Olympic Committee president, and his right-hand man, Leonardo Gryner, the general director of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, were arrested by Brazil’s federal police. Both were allegedly involved in a voting-buying scandal that supposedly allowed Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

Brazilian Olympic Committee president Carlos Nuzman is escorted from the federal police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph courtesy of Bruno Kelly/Reuters.

According to Brazilian federal prosecutors, Nuzman and Gryner controlled a complex criminal organization which, in 2009, “bought” Lamine Diack’s vote to bring the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, the investigation has found several emails showing that Lamine Diack, a former IOC member from Senegal, received at least $2 million for promising to vote for Rio de Janeiro’s candidacy during the poll held in Copenhagen in October 2009.

Nuzman, who is now 75 years old, was a Brazilian volleyball player who represented the national team from 1962 to 1968. Later on, he became head of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation, from 1975 until 1995.  Since 1995, he has been BOC’s president. According to investigators, in the last 10 years, his assets have grown more than 450%.

Additionally, investigators discovered that Nuzman concealed sixteen 1kg gold bars in a Swiss bank, which led federal prosecutor Fabiana Schneider to declare:

“While Olympic medalists chased their dreams of gold medals, leaders of the Brazilian Olympic Committee stashed their gold in Switzerland.”

The ongoing investigation, called “Unfair Play,” brought evidence that Nuzman and Gryner are involved in corruption, money laundering, and conspiracy.

Nuzman’s lawyer, Nelio Machado claimed that Nuzman’s arrest is wholly unnecessary, and constitutes a vehement flaw, mostly because it is clear that the election of Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games strictly followed the rules.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Brazil police arrest Olympic committee chief in vote-buying scandal – 05 October 2017

New York Times – Brazil’s Olympic Committee President Arrested for Corruption – 05 October 2017

ABC News – President of Brazilian Olympic Committee arrested – 05 October 2017

Folha de São Paulo – Brazilian Police Arrest Olympics Chief Carlos Nuzman in Alleged Vote-Buying Scheme – 05 October 2017

New transitional justice system to prosecute war crimes in Colombia

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s new transitional justice system will bring justice to the country after 52 years of armed conflict with the revolutionary armed forces, FARC.  It will establish three courts, a truth commission, and special units to search for ties between state officials and illegal armed groups.

Colombian soldiers at parade in Bogota. Image Courtesy of The Conversation.

The purpose of this system is to bring what is called “restorative justice.” This method “seeks to empower victims of the conflict by facilitating testimonies and reparations from perpetrators, rather than doling out traditional punishments such as jail time.” It is designed to provide alternative and usually shorter sentences for war criminals by allowing them to turn themselves in, plead guilty, explain in detail their crimes, and work to make reparations to their victims. The goal is to get a full account of the atrocities from the five-decade-long armed conflict and provide closure to victims.

The crux of this initiative is the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, also known as the JEP. This will establish courts whose sole purpose is to investigate and try those who committed human rights violations during the conflict. It will be up to the judges in this tribunal to decide what cases they will and will not hear.

The draw for guilty parties to come forward is the alternative and lenient sentencing of the court. A person who admits a serious crime can receive a sentence of up to eight years in prison. This is far less than what would normally be imposed in a criminal court. With full cooperation, alternative sanctions can be granted as well. These sanctions may include confinement to a community with mandated community service or reparations to the victim in whatever way is asked.

The system aims to ensure that women and minorities are fully represented as magistrates, commissioners, and victims in the tribunal. This is crucial because of the disproportionate effect the conflict had on women. The tremendous amounts of sexual violence used as a weapon affected 800,000 sexual assault victims between 2010 and 2015.

JEP plans to prosecute only those who were directly involved in the political conflict. FARC provided the government with information listing its active members to serve as a basis. Members already arrested by the government prior to December 2016 will be eligible for the court as well.

One of the most prominent atrocities JEP will address is known as the “false positives” scandal. During the war, the defense minister began a policy of “cash-for-kills.” It awarded $1,500 to Colombian Army personnel who could prove they had made a “positive combat kill.” This policy led to the slaughter of some of Colombia’s most vulnerable citizens such as the mentally ill. They would be killed, photographed, and falsely presented as enemy combatants for the reward. One study determined that “the false positives scandal led to more than 5,763 extra-judicial executions between 2000 and 2010.”

Elections for JEP’s members occurred on September 26 and signify a positive step forward for this new justice system. The Selection Committee, made up of jurists and professionals from the United Nations and other entities, chose these members.

There is no doubt that this will be an uphill battle. There will be considerable budgetary and administrative problems to overcome, but this might be the only way for Colombia to move on from its violent past.

For further information, please see:

Colombiano – Today the names of the magistrates of the JEP are known – 26 September 2017

Colombia Reports – Everything you need to know about Colombia’s transitional justice system –  25 September 2017

La Republica – More than 100 women would enter the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – 25 September 2017

Semana – The JEP begins uphill – 23 September 2017 

The Conversation – Colombia struggles to deliver justice in army ‘cash-for-kills’ scandal – 18 September 2017

Imprisoned Mapuche activists end hunger strike after 118 days

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile — Four activists for an indigenous group in Chile, the Mapuche, have ended their hunger strike of 118 days. The men starved themselves in protest of their imprisonment and the terrorism charges brought against them.

Protestors in Chile demand justice for Mapuche prisoners. Image Courtesy of Telesur.

After a year and four months of imprisonment with no trial, the strike has come to an end. The Chilean government announced its decision to drop the controversial terrorism charges against these Mapuche prisoners. Alfredo Tralcal, a leader of the indigenous group, and brothers Benito and Pablo Trangol ended their strike as a result. The fourth prisoner, Ariel Trangol agreed to resume a normal diet again the day after his brothers, totaling 118 days on strike.

These prisoners are accused of burning down an evangelical church last year. The church was in a southern region that the Mapuche claim as their ancestral territory.  The court brought them up on terrorism charges through a law that dates back to General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973-1990. This law is known to be abusive and a violation of human rights. It authorizes officials to keep suspects in isolation without charges for up to two years, as well as the use of secret witnesses in trial.

In protest of this outdated and highly controversial law, the men endured a hunger strike for over 100 days. According to a medical expert, on September 1st the prisoners had lost 15-22kg and were presenting serious symptoms such as a deterioration of brain function. At one point, one of the four progressed to stop drinking liquids. Reports say that two of the men had to be taken to a hospital because of their weakening condition.

As their relatives watched them deteriorate, they begged the government to allow a common trial and drop the terrorism charges. The government remained steadfast and refused to let them out on house arrest, even though they have not been able to uncover any incriminating evidence since the arrest one year and four months ago.

The government’s refusal led to protests all over Chile. They called for justice for the indigenous Mapuche inmates. In Santiago, the police clashed violently with demonstrators who marched through the streets chanting for “Mapuche dignity.” The police used water cannons to break up the protest.

The Mapuche is Chile’s largest native ethnic group. They have been fighting with the government for two centuries over the land they lost in the 19th century. After battling conquest for 300 years, the Chilean military expanded and overtook their land. They encouraged European immigrants to colonize the area and the Mapuche have been struggling ever since. Today, the Mapuche are the poorest group in the country and suffer from illness, malnutrition, and discrimination.

Mapuche claims on land have resulted in “decades of struggle, leading to violence and death against leaders, as well as women, children, and the elderly by the Chilean state.”

For further information, please see:

Telesur – After 118 Days Mapuche Prisoner Ends Hunger Strike – 2 October 2017

Greenleft – Chile: Support for Mapuche political prisoners grows – 29 September 2017

Dailymail – Chile denies house arrest for jailed Mapuche hunger strikers – 29 September 2017

RT – Police clash with Mapuche protestors in Chilean capital – 26 September 2017

Lavanguardia – Mapuche leader arrested in Chile and five villagers killed by truck burning – 24 September 2017

Venezuelans forced to scavenge for food to survive

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The people of Venezuela are starving as the economic and political situation in their country worsens. Thousands flee every day because there is not enough food to survive in their homes. This country that was once an economic hub in South America can no longer sustain its population.

Church in Cucuta serves food to immigrants. Image Courtesy of BBC.

With little food available in Venezuela, people look across the border for help. An estimated 25,000 people cross the Simon Bolivar International bridge into Colombia each day. The town of Cucuta in particular has been swarmed with hungry immigrants. One local church feeds between 600 and 2,000 people a day. Immigrants line up in the open-air courtyard set with plastic tables and chairs. Most say they cannot find work back home and come to this church for their only proper meal of the day.

In order to facilitate this mass migration, the Colombian government has recently introduced “border mobility cards.” These allow Venezuelans to move freely across the border without a passport. This is useful for those who go home to Venezuela after getting fed, but some do not ever want to return. Many have remarked that they will not return until their President is gone. One Venezuelan condemned Maduro saying, “he’s a president who spends money while his people die of hunger.”

For those that stay in Venezuela, aid is severely limited. One soup kitchen at a Catholic Church in Caracas can only serve children. Relying solely on donations, it serves 100 children every day and there are never any left overs. Parents, who would rather beg than let their kids go hungry, often have to be turned away. One parent remarks, “sometimes my wife and I do without food so at least the children can eat twice a day.”

President Maduro released “Plan Rabbit” in an effort to solve his country’s hunger crisis. Basically, he asks that Venezuelans eat their pet rabbits as a source of protein. The agricultural minister, Freddy Bernal, remarked with a smile, “the rabbit isn’t a pet, it’s only two and a half kilos of meat.” This country does not commonly consume rabbit and is more used to them as pets. The suggestion that communities should raise rabbits as sustenance was seen as a desperate and extreme measure taken by the President.

Strict food rationing, surging malnutrition, and starvation all became prevalent when the armed conflict began a few years ago. As the economy spiraled, the population’s nutrition did as well. Most Venezuelans have lost significant weight as a result. “A national poll found that Venezuelans lost 19 pounds on average in 2016 due to food shortages.” Malnutrition continues to afflict thousands of people. There has been an infant mortality rise from 35% to 65%. Nutrition in children has dramatically declined while the number of deaths from malnutrition grows.

While all this happens at home, President Maduro focuses his concern on building his army for the war with the U.S. “that will likely never come.” The leader blames President Trump and the United States for his country’s economic crisis and denounces the sanctions brought against them.

For further information, please see:

Fox News – Escape from Venezuela: Colombia border crossing mobbed as starving citizens flee – 28 September 2017

CNS News – No Need for TP or Toothpaste in Venezuela Because There’s No Food – 28 September 2017

BBC – Venezuelans cross into Colombia as crisis deepens – 28 September 2017

Bloomberg Businessweek – From 172 to 115 Pounds: The Faces of Venezuelan Hunger – 27 September 2017

Aljazeera – Venezuelan families scavenge for food to survive hunger – 25 September 2017

CNN Money – Can rabbit meat save Venezuela from going hungry? – 14 September 2017

Brazilian Army Troops Are Deployed in Rio De Janeiro City to Counter Drug-Related Shoot-Out

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On September 23th, 2017, Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann authorized the deployment of about 950 federal army soldiers in Rio de Janeiro city, given the formal state government request of assistance to face the worsening of drug-related violence.

Brazilian army progressing within Rocinha, while neighbors pass through – Picture courtesy of O Globo.

After a whole week of several fire shooting episodes, last Saturday, September 23,  Rio de Janeiro city awoke with a war scenario surrounding one of its biggest favelas, named Rocinha. Armored tanks were on the streets, military helicopters in the sky, and roads were blocked in order to help the cash-strapped state police forces step into the slum area.

Rocinha – as many other Rio`s favelas – is a very poor neighborhood located in the Southern area of the city, not far from some of the most expensive real estate areas. It has about 70,000 inhabitants which were under trafficking gang rules until 2011, when the state government set forth a “pacification program” that pushed criminals, mainly drug dealers, out of the slum.

However, soon after the 2016 Summer Olympics, a wide spread corruption scandal led the former state governor, Sergio Cabral, to jail. According to federal prosecutors, he was the leader of a huge bribery mafia that diverted millions of dollars from state sources, and has been sentenced to more than 45 years in prison. As a consequence, state institutions, including the state police department, have run out of money and the “pacification program” – which had originally been successfully implemented in several favelas – began to run down.

As the “pacification program” weakened, the drug gangs went back to Rocinha. Currently, they are completely reinstalled, and started to fight among them toward controlling the worthiest drug trade points within the slum. War weapons, such as rifles AR-15 and grenades, are constantly used by the drug traffickers on rival gang firefights, and also against the state police forces. Be that as it may, the only hope for the poor Rocinha’s population is to believe that the federal troops will reestablish the order in the neighborhood, and life will return to normal.

For further information, please see:

Reuters — Brazil army deploys in Rio slum as drug-related violence worsens – 22 September 2017

Washington Post – Army mobilizes in Rio as shootings erupt in several areas – 22 September 2017

New York Times – Sérgio Cabral, Ex-Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Arrested on Corruption Charges – 17 November 2016

Wall Street Journal – Brazil Judge Sentences Ex-Rio Governor to 14 Years in Corruption Case – 13 June 2017

Foha de São Paulo – Ex-Governor of Rio de Janeiro Sérgio Cabral Sentenced to 45 Years in Prison – 21 September 2017

Immigrants seek refuge in Colombia as Venezuela’s government collapses

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia, usually an exporter of immigrants, is experiencing the other side of a migrant crisis. Venezuelan refugees flee their homes and bring Colombia the first wave of massive immigration in its history as an independent nation.

Immigrants leaving Venezuela. Image Courtesy of US News.

Venezuelan immigrants have been forced to leave the country amid the collapse of President Maduro’s government. Their once prosperous economy is collapsing and has driven masses of people from their homes. Colombia shares 1,300 miles of border with Venezuela and has been a popular destination for its dispersed neighbors.

Besides the proximity, Venezuelans make the move to Colombia because of the economic opportunity. Several refugees remark that at least in Colombia they can find food with the little money they earn. At home, the Maduro regime has destroyed the free market and shelves remain empty.

On the Pope’s visit to Colombia a few weeks ago, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos pledged that Colombia will accommodate thousands of Venezuelan exiles while it works to find a political solution for their country’s crisis. The President assured the Pope, “Colombia will always be a welcoming land.”

Now that Venezuelans have arrived in the promised amount, Colombia is starting to see the effects. Local authorities report street brawls over food donations. The amount of charity is scarce compared to the amount of need. The mayor of a popular city for immigrants, Cücuta, actually had to ban food donations in public spaces to avoid this violence.

This massive migration is putting a strain on Colombia’s job market as well. Immigrant professionals and students move on to Peru or Chile where there are better job opportunities. This leaves the rest of the refugees as day laborers in Colombia where they make a fraction of what Colombian workers make.

Approximately 3,500 Venezuelans enter Colombia daily. If this level of immigration persist, Colombia will experience an unprecedented population increase of 3% next year. However, this number is surely even larger because Venezuelans who cross the border illegally are not accounted for. Because of this, the Colombian government has drastically understated the effect this immigration crisis will have on their country.

Colombia is not the only destination for Venezuelans. “Since Venezuela’s economic crisis began in 2014, an unprecedented number of Venezuelans have fled the country.” Most have fled to Colombia, but Brazil has also received tens of thousands. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico has also increased significantly. Refugees arrive in hopes of gaining refugee status, temporary work, and medical services.

These immigrants have suffered food shortages and a severe lack of medical supplies under their socialist ruler. In many cases, their neighboring countries are their only hope for survival.

For further information, please see:

US News – The Venezuelan Diaspora – 18 September 2017

Bloomberg – Trump and Santos to Weigh Plans to Pressure Venezuela Government – 18 September 2017

PanAm Post – Venezuela’s Socialist Collapse Has Unleashed a Migrant Crisis in Colombia – 17 September 2017

Q Costa Rica – Venezuela Asylum Requests Soar in Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico – 14 September 2017

ABC News – Colombian leader promises Pope to take in exiles – 10 September 2017

Brazil investigates alleged massacre of ‘uncontacted’ Amazonian tribe

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil – A federal prosecutor in Brazil has opened an investigation into the massacre of an “uncontacted” indigenous tribe in Brazil. Reports of this attack originate from illegal gold miners who bragged about their attack in a bar.

An uncontacted Brazilian indigenous tribe near the border of Peru. Image Courtesy of NBC News.

These gold miners, also known as garimpeiros, were illegally mining in a protected part of the Amazon when they encountered an indigenous tribe of at least ten members. The miners bragged that they had “gotten the better of them and killed the entire lot.” They boasted of cutting the tribe members’ bodies so that they wouldn’t float and dropping them into the Jandiatuba River.

The miners are recorded speaking in a nearby town and have been arrested and taken in for questioning. They were overheard saying that they shot at women and children hunting for turtle eggs on the riverbank. They also claimed, “it was kill or be killed.” If confirmed, this murder would be the largest massacre of indigenous people in Brazil since 1993.

One official reports that there is no material proof of the alleged massacre. Given the time that passed and size of the Amazon, it is extremely difficult to find the bodies. However, the miners had collected tools and jewelry from the dead which corroborate their story.

This attack is believed to have taken place along the Jandiatuba River, near Peru’s border, where around twenty uncontacted tribes live. This is part of the Javari Indigenous Territory, an 85,445-square-kilometer area which is home to the largest concentration of isolated indigenous people in the world. The territory was given legal protection for indigenous tribes in 2001. However, in recent years the area has seen an increase in the presence of illegal miners and loggers.

The director of Survival International blames the Brazilian government. “If these reports are confirmed, President Temer and his government bear a heavy responsibility for this genocidal attack.” Under President Temer, the government has slashed funds for Brazil’s agency on indigenous affairs, Funai. This 44% cut in funds resulted in Funai closing five of 19 bases designated to protecting uncontacted communities.  Dozens of tribes have been left defenseless against thousands of invaders who want to raid their lands, including gold miners, ranchers, and loggers.

As is expected, little is known about the tribe involved in this massacre. They are known as Fleicheros, or “the ones who throw arrows,” and everything else is a mystery. Because of their isolation from society, these people are highly susceptible to invaders’ diseases and could be killed by something as little as the common cold. Any contact with these tribes, even non-violent, can result in devastation.

Details about this genocide will likely remain blurred. These victims have their own language and culture so are unlikely to ever speak to Brazilian authorities. Knowing this, their invaders feel they can get away with most everything.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – Brazil: Indigenous groups condemn alleged massacre – 15 September 2017

Independant – Brazilian police investigate gold miners for ‘killing uncontacted Amazon tribe members’- 13 September 2017

CBS – Prospectors reportedly detained in killing of Amazon tribe members in Brazil – 13 September 2017

NBC News – Brazil Launches Investigation into Alleged Massacre of ‘Uncontacted’ Indigenous Tribe – 12 September 2017

Washington Post – Authorities: Gold miners at a bar bragged about slaughtering members of a reclusive Brazilian tribe – 11 September 2017 

Mongabay – Uncontacted Amazon indigenous groups reportedly attacked by outsiders – 11 September 2017

 

Pope Francis calls on Colombia to stop violence against women

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Pope Francis called attention to issues of violence against women during his visit to Colombia. He points out how the patriarchal and chauvinistic customs of the country have contributed to extensive violence against women.

Pope Francis celebrates mass in Bogota, Colombia. Image Courtesy of The Washington Post.

The Argentine pontiff was the first Pope to visit the largely Roman Catholic country in over three decades. His five-day trip is to show support for war-torn Colombia as it moves toward peace. He urges Colombians to resist temptations of vengeance and move past their conflict.

Specifically, he warns the country to correct their ill treatment of women. He said, “We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote” all that women do for the church and society. He warns bishops to value women more and not let them be reduced to servants.

On his visit, he said mass in the central plains of the city of Villavicencio and emphasized the importance of respecting women to his listeners. Colombia is a deeply conservative society where women often face discrimination, sexual violence, and abuse by partners. Knowing this, he used his homily to preach respect for women. He noted, “the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history.”

This speech comes in light of how profoundly women suffered during this war, Latin America’s longest running conflict. Government data shows that about 20,000 Colombians, most of them women and girls, were victims of rape and sexual violence. Both sides used sexual assault as a weapon during the war. Also, seven million Colombians were forced from their homes and women bore the brunt of this displacement. Violence against women was instrumental in the war and has grown as a result.

Colombia’s chauvinistic and conservative culture is demonstrated in relationships especially. A significant amount of violence toward women occurs at the hand of their partners. “One woman is killed every four days in Colombia, often at the hands of a former or current partner.” Additionally, women that have reported partner abuse attribute 80% to have been inside the home.

Critics see Pope Francis’ message as hypocritical. The Roman Catholic Church has an anti-abortion stance and does not allow females priests. This has been protested by several reproductive women’s rights groups.

However, Pope Francis showed some resistance to this policy when he indefinitely extended the ability to grant absolution for abortions to all priests last year. This was a monumental move for the church.

He asked his listeners in Villavicencio, “how many women, in silence, have persevered alone?”

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Visiting Colombia, Pope addresses patriarchy, violence against women – 8 September 2017

BBC – Pope Francis addresses violence against women on Colombia visit – 8 September 2017 

Washington Post – Pope says ‘thick darkness’ threatens Colombia – 7 September 2017

CNN – Pope to begin peace-building visit to Colombia – 5 September 2017

UNITED NATIONS: Two South American Countries Highlighted at the Human Rights Council

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GENEVA, Switzerland – On September 11th, 2017, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zei Ra’ad Hussein, stated that “the world has grown darker and more dangerous.” At his inaugural speech at 36th Session of Human Rights Council, Hussein cited Venezuela and Brazil, among 40 other countries, as countries wherein human rights have been significantly violated.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza Montserrat during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on 11 September. Picture courtesy of The Guardian.

Hussein’s statements were based on a wide number of incidents, holding that those two South American countries have been suppressing human rights.

In fact, since former president Hugo Chavez arose 15 years ago, all human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the policies enacted by Venezuela’s government. Massive reports indicate that citizens’ basic rights, such as freedom of speech and peaceful assembly have been abridged. Political imprisonment, ill-treatment of prisoners, and excessive use of force against civilians have been highlighted as well. Furthermore, the executive branch is accused of having frequently attacked public institutions, including the parliament and the supreme court, in order to suppress any kind of reaction from the opposition parties. This long period of misconduct has led the country to an unprecedented financial collapse and launched its people into misery and starvation. Although president Nicolás Maduro has denied all the foregoing charges, the evidences seem to show the reports are right.

Regarding Brazil, despite the undeniable human rights violations, the situation is somehow different. Unlike Venezuela, there are no clear signs of deliberate government attacks against democratic institutions in Brazil. However, the human rights violations are related to a wide swept corruption scheme, which was unveiled by an ongoing investigation, started in 2014, and led by the Brazilian attorney general’s office. The widespread corruption scandal undermined the country’s resources, and carried it to a serious political instability that resulted in former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. According to Brazilian federal prosecutors, billions of dollars have been illegally diverted, and many high authorities and successful entrepreneurs have been arrested due to bribery crimes.

Even the president, Michel Temer, has been criminally indicted before the Supreme Court. It is easy to see how far the systematic corruption has gone in that country, as former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the former president of its House of Representatives, Eduardo Cunha, have been criminally convicted of bribery, the first to nine and a half years in prison, and the second to fifteen and a half years, and 4 months in prison. The ongoing government corruption has deprived Brazilians of basic human rights, such as education, health, safe and so forth.

Based on the foregoing facts, Hussein addressed his speech to UN Human Rights Council as follows:

“Last month my Office issued a report on Venezuela, highlighting excessive use of force by security officers, and multiple other human rights violations, in the context of anti-Government protests. There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the Government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices – including through criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force, and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture. Venezuela is a Member State of this Council, and as such has a particular duty to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”, in the words of Resolution 60/251. My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed, which can only be confirmed by a subsequent criminal investigation. While I support the concept of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the current mechanism is inadequate. I therefore urge that it be reconfigured with the support and involvement of the international community. I also urge this Council to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela.

Corruption violates the rights of millions of people across the world, by robbing them of what should be common goods and depriving them of fundamental rights such as health and education or equal access to justice. Recent scandals, including very serious allegations levelled at high-ranking officials in Brazil and Honduras, have revealed how deeply corruption is embedded in all level of governance in many countries in the Americas, often linked to organized crime and drug trafficking. This undermines democratic institutions and erodes public trust. Progress towards uncovering, and prosecuting, corruption at high levels of government is an essential step forward in ensuring respect for the people’s rights, including justice.”

To read the whole speech, please click here:

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Venezuela crisis: UN calls for investigation into possible crimes against humanity

Impunity Watch – Venezuelan President will not address UN after shocking human rights report – 11 September 2017

Noricias OUL – Cunha é condenado por Moro a 15 anos e 4 meses de prisão – 30 March 2017

ONUBR – Citando Brasil, comissário da ONU alerta para vínculo entre corrupção e perda de direitos – 11 September 2017

Globo G1 – Lula é condenado na Lava Jato a 9 anos e 6 meses de prisão no caso do triplex – 12 July 2017

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

Venezuelan President will not address UN after shocking human rights report

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS,Venezuela – After a scathing human rights report by the UN, Venezuelan President Maduro cancels plans to address the UN Human Rights Council on September 11, 2017. Maduro will send newly-appointed foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, in his place to address the Council on its opening day.

Venezuelan President Maduro. Image Courtesy of Venezuelan Analysis.

Many see Maduro’s decision not to speak as a response to the U.N.’s human rights report and increased activism against his policies. The report calls for further investigation and accountability by the Venezuelan government. It also asks the UN Human Rights Council itself to take measures to prevent these human rights violations.

On August 30th, The UN reported extensive human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela. These come in the wake of anti-Government protests as tensions between the Government and the opposition increase. The report indicates a repressive policy with the use of excessive force and arbitrary detention against protesters. The government’s actions toward protesters, led by Maduro, point to “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instill fear in the population to curb demonstrations.”

The President, as one of the 47 current member states, planned to speak at this three-week UN Human Rights Council session. He last addressed this audience in November 2015. The Council does not invite dignitaries to participate in meetings, but it is protocol to honor member states’ requests to speak.

Although he was granted speaking time, a Council spokesman released a statement that Maduro would not address the council without giving a specific explanation.

The U.N. report paints a disturbing picture of the country. Reliable sources estimate the number of people detained since the beginning of April to be 5,000, including 410 children. Many detained victims have described it as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Other detainees, both men and women, also reported threats of sexual violence and death perpetrated by the guards. Conditions in detention centers are alarming with accounts of over-crowded cells, rat and insect infestations, and lack of drinking water and bathroom facilities. The U.N. found these victims’ accounts to be consistent and corroborated by medical records.

President Maduro does not allow the U.N. investigation to enter the country, so this report is based on phone interviews with victims, families, NGOs, journalists, lawyers, first-responders and doctors. There are reported attacks to journalists and media workers to stop them from covering the demonstrations. These demonstrators and journalists have been designated “terrorists” and “enemies” by authorities.

Maduro’s spot at the podium was already being criticized. Critics were outraged and did not want to see the UN stage used by a dictator. Days earlier, 12 human rights activists called for an urgent Council meeting to discuss Venezuela’s membership and protest Maduro’s appearance.

For further information, please see:

CNS News – Maduro Cancels Plans to Address UN Human Rights Council; Activists Want Venezuela Expelled – 6 September 2017

Reuters – Venezuelan President Maduro will not go to U.N. rights forum – 5 September 2017

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

UN News Centre – Human rights violations indicate repressive policy of Venezuelan authorities – 30 August 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