Police Violence in Rio Slums

Photo Courtesy of AP
Photo Courtesy of AP

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil-Brazil’s police are being criticized for their response to a violent incident in a slum that left eight people dead. During a routine patrol in the city’s northern zone the police called in reinforcements after they came under fire.

The police response led to what is considered to be one of the worst outbreaks of violence since October, when drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter. Forty people were killed in the police response. Brazil’s bid for the 2016 Olympics was accepted just one week later.

The state governor ordered a police crackdown on gangs in the slums in mid-2007. Officers are accused of heavy handed tactics and of fueling the violence by forming off-duty vigilante squads that extort slum residents. The United Nations and human rights groups criticized Brazil’s aggressive policing.

Three people are killed in Brazil’s slums each day on average. Officials defend their methods, arguing that they are going up against heavily armed gangs with assault rifles, grenades, and even anti-aircraft weapons.  Last week, police found the body of the leader of a local non-profit organization that offers young people living in the slum theater training. Fred Pinheiro’s throat was slit and he had been missing for two days.

In the past nine years, 10,216 people have been killed in police clashes in Rio. The majority took place in the city’s nine hundred and eighty slums.

For more information, please see:

AP-Shootout in Rio Slum Ahead of Carnival; 8 Dead-11 February 2010

The Washington Post-Eight Killed in Pre-Carnival Violence-11 February 2010

AFP-Eight Dead in Police Clash with Drug Gang in Rio Slang: Officials-11 February 2010

Missionaries Murdered for Helping Amazon Indigenous

Photo Courtesy of Daylife.com

PARÁ, Brazil-The landowner accused of ordering the murder of Sister Dorothy Stang in the Amazon in 2005 has been ordered back to jail.  Sister Dorothy Stang worked on behalf of the indigenous community and for rainforest preservation. Vitalmiro Bastos Moura “Bida” was originally convicted for the killing in 2007. The verdict was overturned a year later and he is now facing a retrial.

Sister Dorothy Stang was seventy-three and had lived in Brazil for thirty years when she was shot six times as she walked along a muddy rainforest trail. She was left to die in the mud.

The thirty year sentence is the maximum in Brazil and  legislation requires a second trial to confirm the sentence. At the second trial, Bida was found not guilty. Yesterday an appellate court ordered him back to jail, with a majority of the judges agreeing with a lawsuit filed by government attorneys, which annulled the second trial.

The man who is believed to have ordered and paid for the murder is another landowning farmer, Regivaldo Pereira Galvao, also known as Taradao (“Big Pervert”), has been indicted but never tried.

Estimates are that hundreds of people have been killed in land disputes in the state of Pará in the last few decades, with few prosecutions. Despite the international outrage, missionaries who campaign on behalf of the poor in the Amazon region face death threats and reportedly need police protection to do their work.

For more information, please see:

AP-Suspect in Slaying of U.S. Nun in Brazil is Back in Jail, New Trial Expected This Year-7 February 2010

BBC-Brazil Man Accused of Nun Murder Back in Jail-7 February 2010

Sydney Morning Herald-Brazilian Linked to Nun’s Death Jailed-7 February 2010

2.4 Million Colombians Displaced

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-A new report by a non-governmental organization released on Wednesday found that in the last twenty-five years, 2.4 million people were displaced under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe. The report was prepared by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (Codhes).

According to the report, 2009 saw a twenty four percent drop in displacement relative to 2008. In 2008 there was a record high of 380,863 people forcibly displaced. The head of Codhes stated that “clearly there is progress in some sectors of society, but not for the entire population, which calls into question the entire police of “Democratic Security.”

The report found that people are most affected in the regions of Chaco, Nariño Antioquia, Cordoba, Cauca, Arauca, Valle del cauca, Risadalda, Bolívar, Cesar, Meta, and Guajira. Narña, reportedly has experienced the worst displacement, with fifty-six percent of the total amount of displacement events.

Nariño is located on the border with Ecuador and is home to the majority of Colombian indigenous communities. It has been the sight of constant conflict between the Colombian military and the FARC rebels.

The “Democratic Security” policy went into effect in 2003, and has operated with the objective of widening the territory under the direct control of the central government and denying access of land to illegal armed groups; protecting population centers with the presence of security forces; and fighting the flow of drugs.

The head of Codhes told media that “at the core of the reasons for this forced displacement is the violent appropriation of land, and threats to leave that are issued by paramilitaries and the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia.” He also pointed out that, although the number of Colombians leaving the country has declined, “Colombia is still the country with the highest number of refugees in the world after Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.”

The “democratic security” policy has been criticized as ignoring the social costs of its implementation and for the fact that Colombian civilians are exposed to danger and human rights abuses.

For more information, please see:

IPS-COLOMBIA:Who Cares About the Victims of Forced Displacement?-29 January 2010

Morning Star-Violence Forces Out 286,000 Colombians-28 January 2010

Colombia Reports-2.4 Million Colombians Displaced Under Uribe Presidency-27 January 2010

Child Labor in Ecuador

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America


QUITO, Ecuador-The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Guinara Shahinian, expressed grave concern about the continued use of child labor in Ecuador. Ms. Shahinian just finished a tour of Ecuador. She concluded that child labor is a continued impediment to development in Ecuador.

Ms. Shahinian spoke with key stakeholders in the field of child rights and child labor. She also spoke with children and workers. An official report will be submitted to the Human Rights Council. Child labor is most likely to be found in banana plantations, flower farms, and garbage dumps. Child laborers lose out on education and limit their potential to earn a higher income and move their families out of the poverty cycle.

Other instances of labor exploitation observed during the visit included inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as discrimination. These situations reportedly exacerbate labor exploitation which are disproportionately encountered by refugee and asylum-seeking communities of Colombian nationals.

Special Rapporteur Shahinian praised Ecuador for a “genuine commitment to the elimination of child labor, including its worst forms, domestic servitude, forced labor, and debt bondage.”  Ecuador has worked comprehensively with the U.N. in developing initiatives, including a monitoring system.

One potential source of the difficulty in ending child labor is the income inequalities between families of indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorean decent and those of European or Mestizo descent. Children of indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorean descent have the most difficulty accessing education and are more likely to live in poverty.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits children under fifteen years of age from being employed or working dangerous conditions. The Ecuadorean constitution reaffirms these ideas.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Education Associates-Ecuador: Child Labor an Obstacle to Development-2 February 2010

SOS Children’s Village-Child Labor Impedes Development in Ecuador-2 February 2010

U.N. Radio-UN Expert Says Child Labor Still a Problem in Ecuador-2 February 2010

Brazil Extradites “Operation Condor” Suspect

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil-Brazil extradited a former Uruguayan army officer on Saturday to Argentina for the 1976 disappearance of an Argentine citizen. The extradition of Manuel Juan Cordero Piacentini, ordered on Tuesday, was delayed until Saturday because the officer’s lawyers argued that he needed to remain hospitalized due to poor health.

Cordero is thought to be involved in the disappearance of Argentine and Uruguayan citizens as a part of Operation Condor. Operation Condor was a collaboration between military dictatorships that ruled many countries in South America in the 1970s and 1980s. South American military regimes secretly cooperated in the torture and disappearances of each others’ citizens with CIA assistance.

Cordero was arrested in February of 2007 in Brazil near the border with Uruguay, where authorities believe he had been living since 2004. Since February, Cordero has been living under house arrest at that location, where he has a home. Cordero tried to avoid extradition by arguing that he was protected under a law in Brazil granting amnesty to Brazilian soldiers acting under that country’s military government.

Argentina, however has no amnesty law. Cordero is specifically suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of Adalberto Soba in Argentina. Uruguay unsuccessfully sought extradition, but because the crimes were committed in Argentina, Brazil only agreed to extradite Cordero to Argentina.

The head of a Brazilian organization called Justice and Human Rights said Cordero was believed to be third in command of a unit charged with “disappearances, torture, and murders.”

For more information, please see:

AFP-Operation Condor Suspect Extradited to Argentina-24 January 2010

BBC News-Brazil Returns Operation Condor Suspect to Argentina-24 January 2010

Washington Post-Brazil Extradites Uruguay Officer in Condor Case-23 January 2010

Colombian Soldiers Indicted for Indigenous Deaths

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-Seven soldiers were indicted last week for killing Edwin Legarda, the spouse of Aida Quilcue, an indigenous leader. Aida Quilcue lead indigenous protests of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s policies. Another indigenous leader was found brutally murdered in Northern Colombia this week.

The army initially explained the shooting death as the result of Legarda failing to stop at a checkpoint in the Cuaca village of San Pedro. However, investigators found no sign of a military check point at the location where Legarda was killed. However, sixteen bullets were found in the sides and just three in the back of the pickup truck Legarda was in.

Seven members of the army were arrested in April of 2009 for the shooting and were charged last week with aggravated assault. The death occurred not long after Legarda’s wife led a large march for several days along the Pan American Highway to the southwestern city of Cali. Protesters demanded that Uribe provide indigenous communities with land, protection from illegal armed groups, and full respect for indigenous rights.

Protest organizers estimate that more than 1,200 indigenous Colombians have been killed and at least 54,000 displaced from their ancestral lands since Uribe became president in 2002.

On Sunday a Zenu indigenous leader that had been reported missing in Northern Colombia was found dead. Efrain Antonio Basillo was beheaded and set on fire by unknown individuals. He was a medicine man and received calls for help in treating an ailing man the night he disappeared.

Tribal leaders believe that both deaths are related to land disputes.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune-Colombian Troops Indicted for Killing Indian -28 January 2010

Colombia Reports-Soldiers on Trial for the Murder of Indigenous Leader-25 January 2010

EFA-Siete Militares Son Llamados a Jucio Por el Homocidio de un Líder Indígena-26 January 2010

Spain Extradites “Death Flight” Pilot

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MADRID, Spain-Spain has agreed to extradite an Argentine pilot accused of taking part in “death flights” in South American countries in 1976-1983. Argentina’s military regime disposed of more than 1,000 political prisoners by dumping them into the Atlantic Ocean. The court granted the extradition, with the condition that Julio Alberto Poch, the alleged pilot should not be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted.

The Spanish judges found that the documentation submitted by Argentina was sufficient to justify Poch’s extradition for offenses that constitute crimes against humanity and are not subject to any statute of limitations. Poch was arrested in September in Valencia while working as a commercial pilot. He is a Dutch citizen.

The Spanish government detained him on an international warrant issued by the Argentine government after confirming via Interpol that Poch frequently flew the Amsterdam-Valencia-Amsterdam route for the airline Trasavia. Poch denied any involvement in the death flights.

Poch was a lieutenant in the Argentine navy during the military junta’s “dirty war” against leftists, a campaign that killed up to 30,000 people, mostly civilians. He was a part of the Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, the sight of the most notorious clandestine jails and torture chambers.

Retired Argentine Vice Adm. Luis Maria Mendia admitted that he approved the creation of a plan for training navy personnel to combat the “terrorist insurgency.” This plan led to the death flights, which were operations dropping the drugged mechanics school political prisoners into the Atlantic ocean.

Argentina contacted the Dutch government in 2008, requesting Poch’s extradition, citing testimony from one of Poch’s colleagues where he told him about the death flights and had even defended the practice. It is unclear why dutch officials did not act in the Argentine request prior to Poch’s arrest in Spain.

In 2005, Argentina’s Supreme Court reversed an amnesty law protecting alleged human rights abusers from prosecution.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune-Spain to Extradite Argentine Accused in “Death Flights”-20 January 2009

BBC-Spain to Extradite “Dirty War” Pilot to Argentina-18 January 2009

AFP-Argentina “Death Flights” Pilot to Stand Trial-13 January 2009

Indigenous Radio Shut Down in Ecuador

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SUCUA, Ecuador-Radio Voice of Arutam, the primary radio station broadcasting to the Shuar indigenous community in the Amazon region, was taken off the air last week for violating Ecuador’s Broadcasting Act. The government contends that the station violated Article 58 of the Act when it allegedly incited violence during protests against the government in October 2009.

International rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch have denounced the government’s actions. the Committee to Protect Journalists referred to the government shut down as “nothing but an attempt to intimidate the media into silence.”

The community was protesting to protect their “Plan of Life,” against government proposals that would allow their territory to be used for mining without their consent. A teacher and community member died during the protest after he was shot.

The Shuar have pledged to continue their legal battle in the courts, arguing that they provide a community service by airing messages in their own language to a poor community where TV and electric power are almost unknown.

The station argues that even though Arutam was issued a commercial frequency license, they acted as a community service station allowing thousands of their people to communicate with others through the use of a simple message. For example, to notify family members that one has arrived safely at a destination after traveling by car, canoe, or by foot. The Shuar use the radio station, known as “the voice of the jungle” to pass along this information.

Thirteen other radio frequencies have been taken off the air. The government also shut down a television broadcasting company for violating a rule prohibiting false information that could lead to social disturbances.

In the first instance, the station allegedly made a false report that the government’s electoral commission had a “clandestine center” where voting results were manipulated. The second offense was an allegedly false report stating that people on the island of Puná would not be able to fish for six months because of proposed exploration for natural gas.

The Arutam plan on taking their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if the court decision stands. They have also pledged to broadcast clandestinely.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian-Power Versus the Press-8 January 2009

Global Voices-Ecuador:Radio Voice of Arutam Taken Off the Air-14 January 2010

The Huffington Post-Media Battles in Latin America Not About Free Speech-17 January 2009

Fujimori Conviction Upheld

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru-Ex-President Fujimori’s appeal to annul his conviction and 25-year prison sentence was turned down by the Peruvian Supreme Court. A law enacted in 2006 prevents a pardon or amnesty from being granted to victims of kidnapping.

Fujimori is seventy-one years old and is serving three concurrent prison sentences. He was convicted in 2007 of voluntary manslaughter, serious injury, and aggravated kidnapping for four events in 1991 and 1992. In 1991 fifteen people were shot and four were seriously injured in a Barrios Altos tenement. In 1992 nine students and a university professor from La Cantuta were tortured, murdered, and dumped in sand dunes outside Lima. Fujimori was also found guilty of kidnapping journalist Gustavo Gorriti and a businessman names Samuel Dyer.

The Supreme Court ratified the Special Criminal Court’s verdict that Fujimori knew and authorized its operations under Vladmiro Montesinos. The fines and damages awarded by the lower court were ratified in addition to the twenty-five year sentence.

Fujimori’s attorney vowed to “continue to fight for the annulment” of the sentence and to take the case to the Constitutional Court. Fujimori’s daughter and Congresswoman vowed to present a writ of habeas corpus to the court. However, the president of the Constitutional Court told the press that the Supreme Court’s decision cannot be changed by his court.

Fujimori is to serve his sentence until February 10, 2032. While a pardon is not permitted, after three quarters of the sentence have been served, Fujimori will be eligible to shorten his remaining sentence. Fujimori is currently being held in the special operations unit of the National Police in north Lima.

For more information, please see:

Peruvian Times-Peru’s Supreme Court Turns Down Fujimori’s Appeal on 25-Year Sentence-5 January 2010

AFP-Peru Confirms 25-year Sentence For Alberto Fujimori-3 January 2010

BBC-Fujimori 25-year Sentence Upheld By Peru Supreme Court-3 January 2010

African Migrants Trafficked Through Colombia to the U.S.

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-Three Colombian citizens and an Ethiopian were arrested and accused of running an international ring for trafficking Africans to the United States and Canada. Traffickers charged between $3,000 and $5,000 to take African citizens to the United States via Colombia.

The individuals in custody were charged with migrant trafficking, criminal conspiracy, and forgery of public documents.Johenes Elnefue Negussie, an Ethiopian living in Colombia with refugee status, is thought to be the ring leader. Negussie’s network allegedly has branches in the Colombian cities of Pasto in the South and Cartagena and San Andres in the North.

Colombia is considered a growing hub for people trafficking to the United States due to links to powerful drug traffickers. Two weeks ago, Marines rescued seventy undocumented Africans from the Caribbean, who later sought refugee status on Colombia’s northern coast. A member of the group told local media “we dream of arriving in the United States.”

Colombia deported 285 African and Asian citizens in 2009, and expelled forty-one other foreigners. The majority of migrants reaching Colombia are from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Benin, Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, and Liberia. Mobile patrols have been set up at various points along its border with Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil to end the flow of migrants.

Migrants arrive penniless, often ill, and in debt. The director of the Department of Administrative Security said that the migrants are “victims” that “deserve all the attention, respect and assistance from the Colombian authorities. But behind it lies a very elaborate network that seeks to create links with local drug lords for new routes.”

The director of a local rights group told the press that “its ironic that these people seek refuge in Colombia, one of the countries with the highest rate of displacement and asylum requests in other countries.”

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune-Colombia Arrests Four for Human Trafficking-10 January 2009

AFP-Colombia Police Arrest Ethiopian for Human Trafficking-9 January 2009

AFP-Colombia, Neva etapa en el periplo de inmigrantes africanos hacia EEUU-8 January 2009

Indigenous Autonomy in Bolivia

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LAGUNILLAS, Bolivia-The government of Bolivia has begun seizing ranches, totaling in over sixty square miles, in efforts to end a system of indigenous servitude. The changes came in the new constitution, establishing Bolivia as a pluri-national republic giving the thirty-six ethnic groups that make up over sixty percent of the population the right to self determination at the municipal level.

The land seizures are a part of the process of redistribution where 77,000 square miles of underused or disputed land will be turned over to indigenous communities nationwide by 2013. Eventually there will be autonomous territories. The government claims that all land seized thus far was obtained by fraud and was serving no social or economic purpose. The government also claims that indigenous people were living in servitude on ranches on the land.

The ranchers deny the government’s charges and are challenging the seizures in the courts. Other occupants who have had land seized by the government claim that it was an act of “vengeance.” Large land owners have been some of President Morales’ strongest opponents.

Morales was reelected on December 6, when twelve of Bolivia’s 327 municipalities voted in favor of indigenous self-government. This gives the indigenous communities control over natural resources on their land and more agency in deciding how to use funds transferred from the central state, as well as how they are dispersed.

Local government structure will be determined by each group. Some concerns are that there will be a shortage of farmland. In one area there are 16,000 people who will potentially be assigned plots of only 200 square meters, an insufficient amount to sustain agriculture. Other clans are seeking a redistribution of the 1.7 million dollars a year in funds that come from the central government, because they now only receive half of the total. Groups are also seeking an increase in local taxes and leasing charges on “fair terms” for companies exploiting minerals, limestone, water, and other natural resources.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune-Bolivia Announces Large Land Seizure From Private Company-7 January 2010

AP-Bolivia’s New Leader Seeks Justice for Exploited Indians-3 January 2010

Upside Down World-Bolivia:Native People Take First Step Toward Self Government-23 December 2009

Justice for Argentina’s “Dirty War” Victims

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina-A series of investigations and trials are underway in a renewed attempt to confront the legacy of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Fifteen policemen and officers are on trial before a three-judge panel for their roles in the “dirty war” deaths of over 30,000 people.  DNA test are being used to determine the origin of children thought to have been stolen from “disappeared” parents. 

Military and police defendants are charged with running clandestine torture centers known as the Athletic Club, the Bank, and Olimpo. The defendants are some of the dictatorship’s most notorious figures. They include the leader of the junta that governed Argentina after the 1976 coup and Reynaldo Bignone, Argentina’s last dictator.

Individuals charged with involvement in “Operation Condor” are expected to stand trial next year. “Operation Condor” was a cooperative effort between South American dictatorships in hunting down and killing leftists. The courts have requested declassified US cables that contain information about what the United States knew about Argentine military operations. The Argentine ambassador to Washington is petitioning the CIA and other agencies to open their files on Argentina.

Meanwhile, DNA tests are being used in the pursuit of justice for the estimated 500 children that were stolen from their leftist political prisoner parents and given away to regime supporters. The process has been difficult because many of the children do not know their origins or remain loyal to their adoptive parents. As a result, the Congress supported a bill that required the extraction of DNA from suspected stolen children, even if they did not want to know the results. 

DNA testing is also being used to identify bone fragments found in graves across Argentina. Over 600 skeletons have been compared with samples supplied by relatives of disappeared leftists. There have been forty-two matches made and another 100 waiting confirmation.

Argentine prosecutors have convicted sixty defendants since 2005 for violations of human rights through the use of the ordinary penal law and the criminal courts. 627 former military officers, policemen, and officials were charged with a total of 325 cases open nationwide. The resurgence in investigations and trials comes after the Argentina Supreme Court withdrew amnesty laws, which were in effect through most of the ’80s and ’90s.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian-Argentina’s Authorities Order DNA Tests in Search for Stolen Babies of the Dirty War-30 December 2009

PressTV-Argentine “Dirty War” Defendants on Trial-28 December 2009

The Washington Post-Argentina Puts Officials on Trial Over the Abuses of the Dirty War-28 December 2009

Human Rights Groups Condemn Murder of Colombian Governor

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-Human rights groups are condemning the attempted kidnapping and murder of Luis Francisco Cuellar, the governor of Caquetá. The Colombian government says that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) murdered the governor in retaliation for his promise of a “safe democracy” and crackdown on rebel groups.

The governor’s son told the press that his father was murdered because he refused to walk with the kidnappers. He had severe knee pain from four previous abductions, dating back to before he was governor and had reportedly told his son that he would not walk if he was abducted again

The FARC have not confirmed or denied responsibility for the murder. Senior FARC leaders reportedly have decreased control over their units since severe government strikes over past years. There is speculation that the recent killing will thwart the scheduled release of two FARC hostages.

Amnesty International condemned the killing of a civilian government official. “Civilians in Colombia should not be forced to be part of this conflict,” said a Colombia researcher for Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch stated that the killings showed that “the FARC is once again showing its ruthlessness and complete disregard for the laws of war and the well-being of civilians”

President Uribe has rejected a political dialogue with FARC, which has been fighting the government for forty-five years. The FARC seek to swap its highest profile prisoners for the 500 guerrillas in government jails.

For more information, please see:

Asia One News-Murdered Colombian Governor “Refused to Walk:” Son-24 December 2009

Amnesty International-Amnesty Condemns Killing of Caquetá Governor-23 December 2009

Relief Web-Caquetá Governor Abducted and Killed

Paraguayan Government Refuses to Disclose Contaminated Aquifers

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay-Consumer advocacy groups report that the Paniño aquifer, depended on by forty percent of Paraguay’s population, can no longer be relied on for water that meets quality standards. The National Food and Nutrition Institute issued a press release in late November finding that faecal coliform bacteria was found in samples of eleven aquifers. In response, consumer advocacy groups called on the government to release the names of firms being monitored. The government refused.

Consumer associations have urged the public not to buy mineral water until the government guaranteed the safety of the water. The Inspector General claimed that the contamination findings were blown out of proportion by the press and that there is no threat to water safety.

The Paniño aquifer supplies 360 registered industrial water wells, used by hundreds of water bottling plants, soft drink and dairy companies, cold-storage plants and car wash firms. Only sixty-five percent of households in Paraguay receive piped drinking water from the national grid, while others rely on wells.

Advocates argue that the quality of groundwater is declining due to domestic and industrial waste, lack of controls and monitoring of wells, increased number of companies drilling wells, and a lack of oversight and regulation. Members of the Paraguayan Association of Water Resources, comprised of experts and professors report that since 2000, there has been a significant increase in nitrate levels, indicating contamination by sewage. Thirty-four percent of water samples analyzed by this group had bacteria levels above the acceptable level.

The study highlights the lack of sanitation in the area of the Patiño aquifer, where twenty-three percent of households are connected to the sewage system, and seventy-seven percent use cesspools. Cesspools often leak into groundwater. Aquifers in Paraguay’s Chaco region and the Guaraní Aquifer are also threatened by contamination. The Guaraní aquifer is the third largest subterranean aquifer in the world.

The Environment Ministry says that the public has not been completely aware of the threats to the country’s groundwater. “Today we have more information on the aquifers, but we don’t have the resources to undertake government plans to protect them,” stated one official. He pointed out that the 2007 law on water resources has not been enforced due to lack of resources.

For more information, please see:

IPS-Paraguay: Bottled Water Scare Exposes Threat to Groundwater-24 December 2009

La Ultima Hora-Todas las Aguas Superficiales Están Contaminadas-15 December 2009

ABC Digital-Instituciones Verifican la Calidad del Agua Mineral-14 December 2009

Brazil Truth Commission Proposal Criticized

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will announce a proposal for a truth commission on Monday, aimed at answering questions about abuses that occurred during Brazil’s twenty year military dictatorship. Victims’ relatives have pointed out that the commission will only be effective if military archives are opened.

Victims’ relatives have also expressed concern that the draft version of the proposal called the new body a Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than a Truth and Justice Commission. The draft proposal has to be approves by the Brazilian Congress. A member of the Torture never Again group expressed her concerns at a press conference saying “how can any of the families or anyone from civil society pardon or agree to reconciliation?”

Earlier this year Brazil granted amnesty and reparations to dozens of peasants who were “disappeared” in any army crackdown on a rebel movement in the Amazon. A justice ministry commission also toured Brazil this year and asked victims and their families for forgiveness and provided some compensation.

To date there have been no convictions in Brazil for participating in dictatorship-era murders and torture and has refused to make public the military archives from the period. The families of dictatorship-era victims argue that the opening of military files are key to “the showing of the truth and those responsible.”

The military and its leftists opponents both received amnesty by law in 1979. The Supreme Court is now considering a case that argues that torture is not covered by that law. Victims groups argue that the truth commission must have the power to investigate crimes, including the hiding or destroying archives. These investigations will aid in recommending criminal cases against suspects, and to send documents to courts. Brazil’s armed forces are opposed to further investigations or revisions of the amnesty law.

During the dictatorship, as many as 20,000 people were believed to have been tortured, often through the use of electric shocks and chemicals. Over four hundred Brazilians were murdered or disappeared. Victims groups have filed cases against Brazil with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, questioning the army’s role in the search for victims’ bodies in the Amazon and arguing that the Amnesty law impedes investigations of the dictatorship period.

In response to military accusations that victims’ families are seeking revenge, representatives said “we’re not looking for retaliation. What we want is justice. Brazil is the slowest country in Latin America on these issues.”

For more information, please see:

New Tang Dynasty Television-New Brazilian Human Rights Plan to Include Truth Commission-19 December 2009

Reuters-Brazil Torture Victims Want Army to Open Records-16 December 2009

New York Times-Brazil’s Lula to Propose Torture Truth Commission-14 December 2009