Violent crime remains a major problem in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Violence in Venezuela has reached startling levels. While the country struggles with economic turmoil and political instability, violent crime continues to increase.

Soldiers stand on an armored vehicle in Venezuela. Image Courtesy of Ricardo Mazalan.

In the five-month period between May and September 2017, there were 520 cases of children and adolescents orphaned by violence in the nation’s capital. It is reported that every day, four children lose one of their parents due to acts of violence in Caracas.  The Victim’s Monitor project registry is consistently collecting information on homicides there. Its goal is to characterize crimes, identify patterns of violence and their consequences, and then use them to create public policies to reduce homicides. The “Instinto de Vida” (“Instinct for Life”) is Venezuela’s homicide reduction campaign.

Also during those five months, 755 people died violently in Caracas. Of those, 280 were parents. As a result, women and children are suffering in these violent municipalities. In many cases, it is the breadwinner of the family that is killed and leaves his family in even worse economic conditions. Many children are forced to leave school to find the resources to survive, often during to petty drug trafficking or prostitution.

Additionally, the prolonged grief is hurting society. One psychologist, Manuel Llorens, asserted that murder is more difficult to deal with than natural or accidental deaths, and that it “produces a mixture of pain, anger, impotence and resentment.” He also says that due to the psychosocial consequences, “the social fabric is broken, and spaces for coexistence and consensual solutions for common problems are reduced.”

For the families that do survive, Venezuela’s culture fosters a significant problem with violence against women. The issue is so common that Venezuela has implemented projects to raise awareness about the reality of violence against women. They encourage people to recognize it as a violation of human rights. Statistics show that the abuse of women extends to psychological violence as well as physical.

However, violence is not limited to civilians. Even soldiers have been ordered to avoid traveling at night and refrain from revealing their military IDs. A “radiogram” sent by Venezuela’s military was discovered that reflects concern over soldiers’ safety. In one of the most violent countries in the world, military personnel attract thieves rather than scaring them away.

One retired general, Antonio Rivero, confirmed, “This is a totally contradictory situation. The document admits that not even security officials, who should be armed … are safe in Venezuela.” It is estimated that 282 police, soldiers, guards, and other security personnel have been killed this year. In an effort to keep them safe, soldiers are ordered to avoid places of “dubious reputation,” avoid nighttime risks, and refrain from using cellphones while stopped at traffic lights.

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Crime is so bad in Venezuela that even soldiers were ordered to avoid driving at night – 28 November 2017

Stratfor – Venezuela: Why 2018 Will Be a Painful Year – 28 November 2017

InSightCrime – In Caracas, 4 Children Orphaned Every Day by Violence – 27 November 2017

Telesur – Venezuela Launches Campaign to Counter Violence Against Women – 1 November 2017

Brazilians protest proposal for total abortion ban

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil– On Monday November 13, thousands of women flooded the streets of Brazil in protest of a congressional vote to ban abortion. If enacted, the constitutional amendment would prohibit abortion under any circumstances.

Women march against proposal for total abortion ban in Rio. Image Courtesy of Silvia Izquierdo.

Protestors carried their children along with them as they shouted, “our bodies are ours!” The march reached the Rio state legislature and scuffles with authorities developed. The Police were forced to fire tear gas to settle the crowd.

Right now, Brazil’ criminal code allows abortion for pregnancies that result from rape, as well as pregnancies that endanger the mother’s life. Also, many women have been allowed to abort anencephalic fetuses. Courts found it was traumatic to make women give birth to infants that would certainly die from birth defects after delivery.

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, made up of all men, voted 18-1 in favor of this constitutional amendment to further restrict abortions. The only female congresswoman to vote, Erika Kokay, gave the only ‘nay’. If enacted, this amendment would ban all abortions in Brazil and remove any exceptions, including those for victims of rape. Congressman Tadeu Mudalen, in favor of the ban, asserts that “life starts at the moment of conception and therefore should be protected by law.”

However, the victory in this special committee is not binding. Since it is a constitutional amendment, it needs a super-majority in both Congress’ lower house and the Senate to become law. Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, assures that any ban on abortion without exception for rape won’t pass his chamber.

In Brazil, hundreds of women have died from unsafe abortion in the last few years. Women and girls who do not wish to continue their pregnancies will be forced to continue them against their will or will resort to terminating them clandestinely. Even if the pregnancy threatens their health or results from rape, the law allows no exception. These illegal abortions are dangerous and could lead to prison sentences of up to three years.

Maira Kubik Mano, a Ph.D from the University of Bahia says that “if this bill passes, it will most affect poor, black Brazilian women, as they can’t afford to be treated in clandestine abortion clinics.” The typical profile of women who seek abortions are those who haven’t studied further than high school and have limited access to birth control and sex education. Even with the current restrictive law, wealthy women are the only ones who have access to safe procedures in private clinics.

This demonstration in Rio is just one of several going on in other Brazilian cities. Women carry signs reading “Secular uterus” and “I don’t deserve to bear the child of my rapist.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Thousands protest proposal for total abortion ban in Brazil – 13 November 2017

Brazilian Report – Brazil’s Congress wants to ban all abortions, even for rape victims – 10 November 2017

Human Rights Watch – Will Brazil’s Congress Turn Its Back on Women and Girls? – 10 November 2017

Telesur – Brazilian Women Prepare to Protest Full Abortion Ban – 10 November 2017

Independent – Brazilian male MPs chant ‘abortion no’ after voting to ban terminations for pregnant rape victims – 9 November 2017

Supreme Court justices accuse Venezuelan officials of crimes against humanity

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – The Venezuelan Supreme Court justices have accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government officials of committing crimes against humanity. They filed the complaint with the International Criminal Court while exiled from the country.

Magistrate of the Supreme Court Pedro Troconis gives news conference regarding crimes against humanity. Image Courtesy of Carl Juste.

The complaint was sent to The Hague by Supreme Court justices who were appointed by the opposition. It accuses Maduro and nearly 60 other officials of a systematic persecution of dissent. Any citizen who speaks out against the regime is immediately labeled an enemy of the state. This strict system of social controls and subjugation, the complaint argues, creates a society where “people who are ideologically opposed to it are dominated, moved or destroyed, all with the goal of making it … irreversible.”

The complaint was initially filed by Hebert Garcia Plaza, the former Maduro cabinet minister in charge of food supplies, along with the Supreme Court of Justice. The justices were appointed by the opposition-controlled legislature earlier this year. Now that the National Assembly has been pushed out and replaced with the pro-government constituent assembly, the justices have been exiled under threat of arrest.

The Appeals Branch of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice made the decision to file the complaint. A representative referenced crime involving murder, imprisonment in violation of fundamental international laws, and the persecution of a group because of political motives. Only those who were loyal to the government had access to food and medicines,  so citizens were put in difficult situations. The court added that around 20 million citizens might have to abandon their country because of threats to their health. The risk of dying is high due to poor nutrition, a lack of medicine, and government forces’ deadly actions toward dissidents. They included evidence that Venezuela’s suffering is a direct result of government policies.

This announcement comes just one week after former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, also in exile, asked the International Criminal Court to capture and bring President Maduro to trial. Ortega claims that government officials are responsible for 8,290 deaths carried out by security forces from 2015 to 2017. She sent more than 1,000 pieces of “evidence” to the ICC and proof of repression during anti-government protests. She explained that the killings occurred “under the orders of the executive branch, as part of a social cleansing plan carried out by the government.”

The ICC has authority to investigate and try individuals accused of crimes against humanity when a nation state is deemed unable to carry out the process itself, but the ICC has yet to officially respond to Ortega’s accusations.

The complaint accuses prominent officials such as Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, former national guard chief Antonio Benavides Torres, Vice President Tareck El Aissami and former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Venezuelan officials accused of crimes against humanity in The Hague – 21 November 2017

PanAm Post – Venezuela’s Legitimate Supreme Court to Denounce Maduro Regime before International Criminal Court – 21 November 2017

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuela’s Fugitive Ex-Attorney General Accuses President Maduro of Crimes Against Humanity – 17 November 2017

Reuters – Venezuela’s ex-prosecutor wants Maduro tried at The Hague – 16 November 2017

Independent – Venezuela’s president accused of crimes against humanity – 16 November 2017

Chile grants asylum to Venezuela’s opposition leader

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Chile’s Foreign Ministry granted political asylum to one of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders, Freddy Guevara. He has taken refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence.

Freddy Guevara gives a press conference. Image Courtesy of Fernando Llano.

The Ministry said in a statement that “it had welcomed congressman Freddy Guevara as a guest, in line with Chile’s humanitarian tradition.” Mr. Guevara, 31, is the vice-president of Venezuela’s National Assembly. He has been accused of instigating violence during opposition protests, and asks for political protection because he feels there are imminent threats to his security.

Mr. Guevara arrived in Caracas On November 4 with his girlfriend to take refuge with the Chilean embassy. This concluded a suspenseful 24-hour period in which vehicles belonging to the Sebin intelligence police surrounded Mr. Guevera’s home and forced him into hiding.  Mr. Guevara is currently in the ambassador’s residence which is located in an exclusive country club neighborhood with walled-in estates and a golf course. There was no sign of activity at the refuge the following morning.

The Supreme Court of Venezuela is calling for Mr. Guevara’s arrest on allegations of inciting unrest and violence during months of anti-government protests. The National Assembly’s president, Julio Borges, claims President Maduro’s government is behind the court’s ruling. Several other key opposition members have been prosecuted, jailed, or stripped of their political rights since Maduro was elected in 2013. Mr. Borges stated, “Venezuela is hungry for food, but also freedom, justice and dignity.”

The government-stacked Supreme Court barred Mr. Guevara from leaving the country and has called on the Constitutional Assembly to strip his immunity from prosecution. The Constitutional Assembly was recently created to replace the National Assembly and is filled with pro-government members. President Maduro has given the Constitutional Assembly virtually unlimited power. However, law says that the opposition-controlled National Assembly should be the one to determine whether a legislator should lose constitutional immunity. This attempt to shift power away from the National Assembly and prosecute one of its leaders demonstrates Maduro’s effort to tighten his grip on power.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza spoke on behalf of the government and labelled Guevara a coward. He tweeted, “some people are brave when it comes to inciting violence, destruction and death, but when justice is done, they run away in shameful cowardice.” Other government authorities also publicly mocked him for taking refuge in the embassy.

The United States has denounced the pro-government Constitutional Assembly for taking his immunity. Mr. Guevara was often on the front lines of protests demanding early elections, humanitarian aid to alleviate hunger, freedom for imprisoned dissidents, and respect for the National Assembly.

For more information, please see:

Guam Daily Post – Venezuela opposition leader seeks refuge in Chile – 7 November 2017

Voice of America – US Denounces Venezuela After Legislature Targeted Opposition Leader Guevara – 7 November 2017

The Guardian – Chile willing to grant asylum to Venezuelan opposition lawmaker – 7 November 2017

BBC – Venezuela opposition politician Freddy Guevara seeks refuge – 5 November 2017

ABC News – Venezuela opposition leader seeks refuge in Chilean embassy – 5 November 2017

Miss Peru contestants use stage to protest gender violence

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru –Peru’s Miss Universe Pageant broke from tradition in early November and dedicated the stage to raising awareness for gender violence. Instead of the standard answers, participants gave hard-hitting statistics about femicide that plagues their country.

Miss Peru Beauty Pageant 2018. Image Courtesy of Canal Peru.

The opening segment of Sunday night’s Miss Peru 2018 contest presented an unexpected set of figures to the audience. The time came for contestants to reveal their most intimate measurements on stage including bust, waist, and hip size. One woman responded, “my name is Camila Canicoba and I represent the department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of murdered women reported in the last nine years in my country.” Each participant answered in the same way, offering horrific statistics about violence against women in place of their measurements. Another woman offered, “my measurements are: the 65 percent of university women who are assaulted by their partners.”

The pageant organizers later explained that the protest was planned. As each woman spoke, images of brutalized women and newspaper clippings about femicide killings flashed across the enormous screen. Pageant organizer and former beauty queen Jessica Newton sees the event as an opportunity to empower women. In a country with an appalling record for gender violence, the pageant is an effective way to reach the country. The program concluded with a question and answer portion where women were asked how they would change the legal code to better protect women.

Latin American beauty pageants are sometimes criticized as sexist and patriarchal in their portrayal of women. Many are quick to criticize the pageant for maintaining a swimwear segment where contests pose in bikinis. However, pageant supporters disagree. They argue that they should be treated with respect regardless of what they are wearing. Newton responds, “if I walk out in a bathing suit I am just as decent as a woman who walks out in an evening dress.”

Gender violence is an escalating problem in Peru, but awareness is growing. One of the most widely publicized cases was that of Lady Guillen. After showing photos of her bruised face that spanned all the way back to 2012, the judge decided that there was not enough evidence to prove her life was in danger. Her ex-boyfriend was released after only four years in prison. This case, along with many others, sparked the women’s rights campaign in Peru. In August, more than 50,000 people took part in a march in the capital, Lima, to protest the lenient sentences given to perpetrators of violence against women. The movement has continued under the slogan #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less).

The ultimate winner of the competition, Romina Lozano, said her “measurements were 3,114 female victims of trafficking that have been registered since 2014”. She also answered in her final question that she would “implement a database containing the name of each aggressor, not only for femicide but for every kind of violence against women”.

Accordingly, Human Rights Watch released a report that around 700 women were murdered in Peru between 2009 and 2015. Also, more than 50% of Peruvian women will experience severe domestic violence in her lifetime. These startling statistics make the #NiUnaMenos movement even more crucial.

For more information, please see:

Green Left – Miss Peru contestants place femicide centre stage – 4 November 2017

PRI – The dangers of reporting femicide in Argentina – 3 November 2017

The Guardian – Miss Peru contestants accuse country of not measuring up on gender violence – 1 November 2017

Independent – Beauty Pageant Contestants Use Stage Time To Inform Crowd About Women’s Rights – 1 November 2017

Vox – Miss Peru hopefuls chose to highlight women’s safety onstage instead of their measurements – 31 October 2017

UN Peacekeeping Mission Led by Brazil Leaves Haiti in October 2017

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

NEW YORK, United States – On October 15, 2017, relying on the United Nation Resolution 2,350/2017, the MINUSTAH (French acronym for United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) left the Caribbean island, being replaced by the Mission for Justice Support (MINUJUSTH), now integrated by 295 police officers, meant to assist and strengthen local police forces.

Brazilian troops leaving Haiti. Photo courtesy of Tereza Sobreira.

The mission, led by the Brazilian army with the assistance of other 16 nations, commenced  in April 2004, two months after the then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted for the second time by local revolutionaries.  Indeed, soon after Aristides’ deposition, various armed gangs took the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, mainly the neighborhood named Cité Soleil, and started to firefight among themselves in a dispute to take the country’s power. The situation, thus, became completely out of control.

As such, the most relevant goal of the U.N. peacekeepers was to quell those armed gangs, in order to stabilize the country again. After many years combating them, the MINUSTAH accomplished the mission and restored the peace in Haiti.

However, during that long period, the MINUSTAH faced some serious troubles such as militaries being charged of sexual abuse against Haitian teenagers, and unnecessary force used against civilians. Furthermore, diseases and natural catastrophes turned things more complicated. In fact, in 2010, a deadly earthquake destroyed almost the entire country; later on, in that same year, U.N. militaries from Nepal were blamed on a cholera outbreak, which killed over 9,000 Haitians. Beyond that, in 2016, Haiti was taken by the hurricane Matthew. All those disasters contributed to postpone the end of the operation.

Nonetheless, the mission is considered a success by the U.N. According to Sandra Honoré, U.N. special representative and head of MINUSTAH:

“These are all indications that the people of Haiti are ready to move forward.”

Now, MINUSTAH troops have been replaced by MINUJUSTH, which will operate in Haiti for about two years. As the local police gets ready to operate by itself, the U.N. police force will gradually withdraw, eventually putting an end to its intervention.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – U.N. Votes Unanimously to End Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti – 13 April 2017

Telesur – UN Military Force Led by Brazil Will Leave Haiti in October – 22 April 2017

Newsweek – After 13 Years and Several Scandals, U.N. Votes To End Mission In Haiti – 13 April 2017

BBC News – Brazil plans Haiti peacekeeping withdrawal, says Amorim– 6 September 2011

EBC Agencia Brasil – Brazil prepares for final withdrawal of Haiti mission – 22 July 2017

Los Angeles Times – U.N. peacekeepers are leaving after more than two decades, but where does that leave Haiti? – 17 April 2017

Human Rights Watch criticizes Colombia for promoting officers linked to killings

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Human Rights Watch is criticizing Colombia’s 2017 list of candidates for army promotions. The list contains candidates who are under criminal investigation for strong evidence that links them to extrajudicial killings.

Students in Colombia protest false positive killings. Image Courtesy of Fernando Vergara.

In total, ten military personnel are being promoted in the Colombian military who have been credibly linked to the “false positive” killings. Evidence implicates five military officials, four colonels, and one general, who have been nominated. They are part of a group of 33 nominees. At this point, the group just need to be approved by the Senate which is only a formality.

America’s director at Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said, “the Colombian Senate should disqualify any officers credibly implicated in serious abuses, unless and until those allegations are fully and properly investigated.”

This “false positives” scandal occurred between 2002 and 2008, and resulted in the killings of over 3,000 innocent civilians. Colombian soldiers lured poor, jobless, and sometimes mentally impaired men to rural regions with promises of work. Once there, the men were executed and dressed in military fatigues to make them look like Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels. The soldiers were rewarded for “accomplishing their mission” with promotions and budget raises. This raised the army’s statistics and exaggerated its body count.

Human Rights Watch research showed the patterns of these killings were systematic and occurred under implausible circumstances, strongly suggesting that the commanders of units knew or had reason to know the truth. These nominated commanders are being investigated in Colombia and internationally for ordering crimes. If they knew or had reason to know their subordinates were committing these crimes, they had responsibilities under international law to prevent or punish those acts.

A resolution from November 2015 was designed to guarantee transparency of military promotions and requires the Defense Ministry to publish a “summary of the resumes of candidates” online. However, this entire round of army promotions is only showing limited transparency. Their resumes lack dates for their service in military units which makes it extremely difficult to assess whether they were involved in the abuses. The resumes provide greater detail on irrelevant information such as the date of their marriages and their children’s birthdays.

“Naturally, each of these five officers enjoys the presumption of innocence,” said Vivanco. “But promoting them while they are still under investigation would signal that Colombian authorities are not serious about ensuring justice for false positives.”

The officers are Brig. Gen. Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, Cols. Miguel Eduardo David Bastidas, Mauricio José Zabala Cardona, Óscar Reinaldo Rey Linares, and Raúl Hernando Florez Cuervo.

For more information, please see:

InSerbia – Colombia: Military Figures in “False Positives” To Be Promoted – 18 November 2017

The Bogota Post – Human Rights Watch criticises Colombia’s promotion of officers linked to killings – 15 November 2017

Human Rights Watch – Colombia: Don’t Promote Officers Linked to Killings – 14 November 2017

Toronto Star – Rights group urges Colombia to scrub promotions for 5 officers allegedly linked to killings – 14 November 2017

Spanish Tourist Killed by Brazilian Police Officer in Rio de Janeiro

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On October 23, 2017, at about 9:30pm, Maria Esperanza Jimenez, a 67 years old Spanish tourist who was doing a guided tour into a favela named Rocinha, in the Southern Zone of Rio de Janeiro city, was shot down by a police officer.

Shot that reached the victim`s neck. Courtesy by Globo TV.

The victim was in a Fiat Freemont along with four other passengers – her brother, her sister in law, a Brazilian guide, Rosângela Cunha, and an Italian driver rooted in Brazil, Carlos Zanineta, when they failed to stop on a police blockade at a slum area called Largo do Boiadero.

According to the preliminary investigations, Lieutenant Davi dos Santos Ribeiro fired his rifle against the car soon after it failed to stop at the road blockade. To Valéria Aragão, the Chief Investigator of the case, Ribeiro said he opened fire because he thought they were trying to escape from the blockade, only realizing that it was a tourist car when he and the other police officers approached the vehicle.

Driver of the car, Carlos Zanieta, said he did not see neither the blockade nor any stop sign. A voice record that is circulating through WhatsApp says that police were sheltering from the rain when they ordered the vehicle to stop, and that the police officers did not enter into the roadway. Accordingly, that would have been the reason the driver did not stop the car.

The fatal shot reached Jimenez’s neck. She was taken to Miguel Couto hospital by police; however, she was already dead upon arrival.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Spanish tourist shot, killed by police in Rio de Janeiro slum – 23 October 2017

New York Times – Brazilian Police Kill a Spanish Tourist in Rio de Janeiro – 05 October 2017

The Guardian – Brazil police shoot dead Spanish tourist in Rio de Janeiro favela – 23 October 2017

Folha de São Paulo – Spanish Tourist Is Shot and Killed by Rio Police in Rocinha Slum – 23 October 2017

Venezuela’s democratic opposition wins EU’s top human rights award

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Venezuela’s democratic opposition and political prisoners on Thursday. This is Europe’s most prestigious human rights award.

Julio Borges will accept the prize on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition. Image Courtesy of Andres Martinez Casares.

Antonion Tajani, the Parliament’s president, made the announcement before a plenary session in Strasbourg, France. The prize was given as a reward to Venezuelan students and politicians for their courage to fight a repressive government and demand freedom. Guy Verhofstadt of the ALDE liberal group remarks that “this award supports the fight of democratic forces for a democratic Venezuela,” and invites the international community to join their fight.

Venezuela has suffered politically and economically for several years. As a result of dropped energy prices, the oil-producing nation took a severe economic hit. Poverty is widespread and thousands have left the country as refugees. Accordingly, President Maduro’s oppressive government has drawn much of the blame. It consolidated power by cracking down on the opposition and hundreds of leaders and supporters have felt the wrath of Maduro’s government. Many have been arbitrarily arrested and dozens have been killed in this past year. Officials report that more than 120 people were killed when anti-government street demonstrations turned violent.

As a result of Maduro’s government, Venezuela’s democracy is in danger. There is currently a standoff between the National Assembly, Venezuela’s only democratically elected Parliament, and the constituent assembly, made up exclusively of government supporters.  President Maduro has tried to close the National Assembly to limit the opposition’s power and influence. His goal is to create a superseding, all-powerful constitutional assembly that will be under his party’s control. The opposition’s effort to defend Venezuela’s democracy is the primary reason for their reward.

Mr. Tajani remarked, “we have decided to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition, recalling our total support for the National Assembly of Venezuela – a democratically-elected parliament – the only parliament democratically elected.”

The “democratic opposition in Venezuela” receives the award as the official laureate. This group is represented by the country’s National Assembly and its president, Julio Borges, as well as political prisoners. The list of political prisoners is maintained by a human rights organization, Foro Penal. Mr. Borges will be invited to receive the prize on behalf of the opposition. The award comes with 50,000 euros (about $59,000) at a ceremony in Strasbourg this year.

The opposition follows last year’s winners, Nadia Murad and Lamiya Ajo Bashar, young Yazidi women who escaped captivity and sexual slavery under the Islamic State. The other finalists for this year included an activist in Guatemala who fights for the rights of indigenous peoples and a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been arbitrarily detained by Eritrean authorities since 2001.

The prize has been awarded every year since 1988 and is named after Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and political dissident.

For more information, please see:

Independent – Venezuela’s opposition awarded Sakharov Prize for championing human rights – 26 October 2017

NY Times – Venezuelan Opposition Receives E.U.’s Sakharov Freedom Price – 26 October 2017

BBC – Venezuela opposition wins EU’s top human rights prize – 26 October 2017

Washington Post – Opposition, prisoners of Venezuela with EU human rights prize – 26 October 2017

Euronews – Venezuela’s democratic opposition given EU’s human rights award – 26 October 2017

Peace talks are complicated as Colombian rebels admit to violating cease-fire

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Columbia – Peace talks in Colombia have become more complicated as the largest remaining rebel group, the ELN, violates a month-old cease-fire. The group has admitted its role in the death of indigenous leader Aulio Isarama Forastero.

The ELN rebel group in Colombia. Image Courtesy of Federico Rios.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, and the Colombian government began their first ever cease-fire after more than 50 years of war. This agreement has been violated less than a month since it began on October 1st. On Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos’ government condemned the killing of the indigenous leader and demanded information to bring the guilty parties to justice. The government also called on the ELN to take concrete steps to ensure that a violation like this is not repeated.

The ELN’s western front released a statement on Sunday explaining Mr. Isarama’s death. It claims that the group detained him for allegedly being an informant for military intelligence. While being escorted to interrogation, the rebels say he physically assaulted one of the guerrilla fighters. The fighter responded in self-defense which led to a “tragic outcome.” The group claims the killing had not been ordered and there was no authorization given for the use of deadly force.

The statement also said, “we’re committed to carry out an internal reflection at all levels so that these incidents don’t happen again.”

Mr. Isarama was a member of the Embera people. His death occurred on the reservation in the western state of Choco, where he was governor. Human rights groups report him to be the 11th indigenous leader slain in Colombia this year.

Indigenous groups from northern Choco province have blamed the ELN from the beginning. They say that Mr. Isarama was led away by five armed men in ELN uniforms and shots were heard two hours later. They also allege that the rebel group has continued to lay mines and threaten their communities.

The chief government negotiator for the peace talks, Juan Camilo Restrepo, calls the killing “deplorable.” However, the government has indicated that it will continue its talks. Peace Commissioner Rodrigo Rivera says that protocol does not allow either side to walk away from the negotiating table because of one single incident. Still, a committee of observers including the UN will investigate the death of Isarama and make recommendations to prevent further incidents.

Peace negotiations with the ELN occurred after years of exploratory talks. Progress has been slow and there is doubt as to whether the group has full control of its 1,500 troops. Many of these rebels have been involved in kidnapping, drug trafficking, and destruction of oil pipelines. Not all of them left this life behind after their top leaders agreed to a cease-fire.

Colombia’s Indigenous communities have mobilized in a “Minga of Resistence” and demand that the government adhere to the terms of the country’s peace agreement. Indigenous organizations are marching in cities in at least 16 states. They demand observance of the peace agreement and the acceleration of murder investigations into at least 30 community leaders.

The demonstrators’ call to action says, “we will sing songs, slogans, we will dance as it shows that in our communities there is no fear and that the love for life, today unites us in the struggle and resistance.”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Colombia peace talks rattled by indigenous leader’s death – 30 October 2017

Colombia Reports – Colombia’s peace process ‘even more complex, more difficult and longer’ than talks – 30 October 2017

BBC – Colombia’s ELN rebels admit killing indigenous leader – 30 October 2017

Telesur – Colombia’s Indigenous March to Demand Government Comply with Peace Accord – 30 October 2017

Voice of America – Colombia’s ELN Rebels Admit Killing Indigenous Leader Amid Ceasefire – 30 October 2017

Brazil investigates plan to serve food pellets to the poor

By: Emily Green

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Sao Paulo Mayor, Joao Doria, is promoting the distribution of dry pellets as a solution to the country’s hunger crisis. Brazilian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the plan to include these pellets in school meals.

Protestor holds a sign that reads “food pellets are not a meal.” Image Courtesy of Nacho Doce.

This investigation was prompted by protests and criticism of the new hunger-fighting initiative. Prosecutors claim that the product has not been adequately examined and question whether it passed the necessary health tests. The pellets’ nutritional value is crucial because the plan targets low income school children.

The pellets, known as “human pet food,” are called farinata. They are made out of the dehydrated leftovers of food from the commercial processing industry. The leftovers used are close to expiring or are “out of marketing standard.” The public has no further information on exactly what ingredients make up these pellets.

Farinata looks dehydrated and resembles popcorn. It can be eaten in several different ways including being mixed into foods like cake and then eaten directly. Mayor Doria did not specify which kind would be given to schools.

A video promoting the nuggets claims that they contain all the necessary nutrients including protein, vitamins, and minerals. It emphasizes that distribution of the free meal substitute will benefit poor families, be good for the environment, and reduce food waste. However, the Regional Council of Nutritionists and other bodies have expressed doubts about the nutritional value. Prosecutors demand more information about the make-up of these pellets.

The opposition calls it “a human rights violation that is in total disregard for the advances made in recent decades in the field of food security.”

However, the non-profit company behind the pellets, Plataforma Sinergia, assures that the product meets all legal requirements. Rosana Perrotti, the founder of this Catholic organization, assures that they process the food correctly by following all techniques of the industry. The result is that normally wasted food is given an additional two years of shelf life.

Mayor Doria is a multimillionaire businessman who is a possible presidential candidate for next year. He supports the pellets and describes them as “solidarity food” that will aggressively combat hunger. Likewise, Cardinal Scherer defends the farinata and adds that the food received a blessing from Pope Francis. He remarked, “it offends me when people call this dog food, and say it is degrading to the poor. It is degrading to deny them food.”

The plan is a reaction to Brazil’s worsening condition. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are consistently on the rise. In Sao Paulo, a report from 2013 shows that nearly 1.5 million people live in hunger. In total, around 7.2 million Brazilians suffer from lack of food.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Sao Paulo’s food pellets plan for poor children divides Brazil – 20 October 2017

Telesur – Brazil Probes Plan to Give Poor People ‘Human Pet Food’ – 20 October 2017

Epoch Times – Sao Paulo’s Mayor to Feed City’s Poor With ‘Dog Food’ – 20 October 2017

The Guardian – Brazil prosecutors investigate plan to give reconstituted food to poor people – 19 October 2017

Motherboard – These Mystery Food Pellets Are Sao Paulo’s Attempt to Combat Hunger – 16 October 2017


Maduro’s shocking victory in Venezuela’s latest election

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s opposition leaders suffered a devastating loss on Sunday, October 15. With reluctant participation by the opposing party, socialist leader Nicolas Maduro staged this election and won by a 17-point margin.

President Maduro. Image Courtesy of Ariana Cubillos.

Several national and global actors have denounced the election as fraudulent because it is unbelievable that Venezuelans would legitimately elect this party. The polls showed Maduro ahead by nine points while the official count reported him losing by six. Additionally, reports show only about a fifth of Venezuelans claim to support his government. He is known for abolishing Venezuela’s National Assembly, violently putting down protests, illegally jailing nearly 500 opposition activists, and wiping out any remnants of independent media. Somehow, he still ended up winning two-thirds of the races with 17 of 23 governorships.

A political risk research and consulting firm, Eurasia Group, reported “if the vote were to be completely free and fair, the (opposition) would likely win between 18 and 21 states.”

Venezuela is shocked by these results but does not have any evidence of a sham election. In the past, Maduro’s party was accused of manipulating the election that put him in power. These allegations involved the software company that set up the voting system and found that it miscalculated by one million votes.

In this case, the pre-rigging of the election was not hidden. Authorities under Maduro abruptly moved polling places of more than a half a million voters from anti-government neighborhoods to regime-friendly areas. They also printed ballots with names of opposition candidates who had been defeated in primary voting.

While some opposition leaders denounce this election and demand an independent audit, others have accepted defeat. Many assume that their supporters had fled as refugees or were too disappointed in the government to participate in the election. Because of Maduro’s tainted history, some opposition candidates say they never truly expected to win in a fair election, they just hoped they would gain more power.

This vote allows Maduro to establish the Constituent Assembly, a new institution that is stacked with his supporters and will replace the National Assembly, which was previously filled with his opposition. From this new institution, Maduro has the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.

This election comes less than three months after the last major vote which ended violently. Protestors clashed with police resulting in the death of six people. Since then, more than 120 people have been killed in protest of their socialist government. Thousands of others have fled the country because of food scarcity, rampant violence, and high inflation.

Since Maduro’s government came into power in July, Venezuela’s democratic credentials have been under scrutiny. Many see this election as a way to affirm Maduro’s power and appear democratic. However, the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, says “you can’t recognize elections in a country where there’s no guarantee for the efficient exercise of democracy.”

For more information, please see:

Pittsburgh Post – Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro defends election results, claims American opposition is aiding him – 17 October 2017

Washington Post – the hope for change in Venezuela suffers a crushing blow – 17 October 2017

Fox News – Venezuela’s democracy is dead – 16 October 2017

CNN – Venezuelan opposition denounces results of first major vote since violent election – 16 October 2017

NY Times – Venezuelan Opposition Denounces Latest Vote as Ruling Party Makes Gains – 16 October 2017

Possible body of missing activist found before Argentina’s midterm election

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Candidates in Argentina suspended their campaigns after a body was discovered in a river on Wednesday, October 18. Many believe it to be the missing activist, Santiago Maldonado, who was last seen close to that location.

A demonstration for Maldonado in Buenos Aires on Thursday. Image Courtesy of Marcos Brindicci/Reuters.

Maldonado disappeared in August during a protest for indigenous rights when the federal police force was called in to put down the rally. According to a witness, Maldonado was knocked unconscious by security forces and put into a car.

The remains were found about 1,500 meters from the community guard of the Indigenous Mapuche community in Pu Lof. The body was on the riverbed of the Chubut River.

An expert hired by Maldonado’s family reported that the clothing on the body matches the description found of Maldonado’s clothes from the day of his disappearance. Also, he claims to have found a document in one of the pockets with his name on it. Regardless, his family is not convinced and distrusts the government. They are staying by his body in anticipation of DNA identification. The autopsy will be carried out on Friday in Argentina’s capital.

However, many question this discovery. That area of the river had previously been checked by authorities three separate times, and they have no explanation as to why they found it on the fourth dredging of the river. Maldonado’s lawyer, Veronica Heredia, remarked “we do not understand … we have no physical or legal explanation of why that body was found yesterday.”

Additionally, several other circumstances have raised suspicions that the body was planted. The remains were found only 300 meters from where the protest occurred, and his family questions how Maldonado could have been found upstream from where he went missing.

On top of that, it was recovered only days before Argentina’s legislative election on Sunday. Major parties running in the mid-term congressional election suspended their campaigns as a result. There is tension and disagreement over who actually harmed Maldonado and which party’s campaign will suffer more. As a result of the discovery, an emergency survey revealed that 12% of voters have decided to change their vote.

As a known activist for the Mapuche people, Maldonado spoke out against the Italian fashion giant, Benetton. The company owns 2.2 million acres of land which the indigenous people claims as part of their ancestral land. There have been numerous protests over the forcible eviction of community members from their homes.

Maldonado’s disappearance is a grim reminder of the 1976-1983 dictatorship that ruled Argentina. During that time, around 30,000 young activists vanished after being taken into custody by security forces.

For more information, please see:

Sputnik – ‘Too Shady’: Body Thought to Be Missing Activist Found Ahead of Argentina Vote – 10 October 2017

Guardian – Body found in icy river could sway Argentina’s midterm elections – 19 October 2017

Herald Tribune – Argentines Wait To Learn If Body is That of Missing Activist – 19 October 2017

BBC News – BBC Minute: On Argentina’s missing activist – 19 October 2017

Telesur – Family of Missing Activist Santiago Maldonado: We Await Autopsy Results – 18 October 2017

Chile becomes latest Latin American nation to resettle Syrian refugees

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet welcomed 66 Syrian refugees to the country on Thursday. Chile is the latest Latin American nation to offer safe harbor to families displaced by Syria’s civil war.

Fourteen Syrian families welcomed by President Bachelet. Image Courtesy of UNHCR.

The refugees were welcomed during a ceremony at the airport in the country’s capital, Santiago. President Bachelet and a UN Refugee Agency representative, Michele Manca di Nissa, greeted 14 families who were forced to flee their homes because of the Syrian civil war.

“We know you have struggled and what we hope is that, in our country, you will find a place to rebuild your lives,” Bachelet said.

The 34 adults and 32 children arrived from Lebanon last week. Chile plans to resettle them in two communities, Villa Almana and Macul. The families will be given furnished homes and social benefits such as monthly stipends, schooling, and healthcare. Each refugee will attend intensive Spanish-language classes to help them adjust to life in Chile. They will also have access to psycho-social professionals from Vicaría de Pastoral Social Caritas, the organization that will follow up and help them integrate.

These Syrian refugees went through a pre-departure orientation session with experienced trainers from the International Organization for Migration. These sessions prepared them for the initial period of resettlement by teaching them about life in Chile. They were provided accurate information to help them make realistic plans for the future.

Additionally, they will receive continued help to make sure they are settled in the community. The children will attend local schools and kindergartens starting in March next year. Also, the adults will receive help finding employment. Chile aims to make these families autonomous and self-sufficient as fast as possible. The host communities aims to facilitate their access to basic healthcare services and help them feel at home. Chile’s Syrian community is actively participating in supporting these refugees.

Chile extends this welcome as part of its refugee resettlement program in which it aims to resettle 120 highly vulnerable Syrian refugees from Lebanon. This program is supported by the UN and is being used in several other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. These nations have begun accepting refugees in small numbers in an effort to help the humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations reports that more than 2 million people fleeing wars and persecution have become refugees in 2017. The United States and several European countries have started to tighten their borders and implement more restrictive asylum policies.

Currently, Chile is home to 1,736 recognized refugees. Most of these refugees are from Colombia. Since 1999, Chile has resettled 480 refugees of various nationalities. Some of these resettled refugees have been able to obtain Chilean nationality.

For further information, please see:

UNHCR – Chile becomes latest country to resettle Syrian refugees – 13 October 2017 

IOM – Syrian Refugees Resettled in Chile under Migration and Refugee Agencies’ Programme – 13 October 2017

UN News Centre – Chile becomes latest nation to resettle Syrian refugees through UN-backed programme – 13 October 2017

U.S. News – Chile Welcomes More Than 60 Syrian Refugees – 12 October 2017

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