New Law Threatens Freedom of Press in Ecuador

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador-Human Rights Watch is calling for Ecuador’s communications bill to be amended so as not to limit freedom of expression. The proposal includes “vague language” that would limit the content of media programing. The bill is currently being debated in Ecuador’s National Assembly. Members of the Ecuadorian press have publicly protested what they consider to be a “gag bill.”

The proposed law includes provisions stating that the exercise of communication rights will be subject to prior censorship in cases “established in the constitution, in international treaties in force, and in the law.” Another provision states that the media will disseminate “primarily contents of an informative, educational, and cultural nature.”

Those in opposition to these provisions point out that Article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights explicitly prohibits prior censorship. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, prohibits “prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means” of communication.

Rights group are arguing for an amendment rather than that the entire legislation be scrapped because the law includes “positive measures.” These measures include a prohibition on monopolies and oligopolies in the media, subtitles or sign language to provide equal access for people with hearing disabilities, and the requirement that public bodies and private entities that manage public resources or services of this nature disclose information in their possession.

Human Rights Watch America’s Director, Miguel Vivanco argued that “an act of communication should promote rather than limit the free flow of information essential to strengthen an open debate in any democratic society.”

An especially contentious aspect of the law is the creation of the National Communication and Information Council, an eight-person body charged with overseeing the application of the law. The Council would be chaired by a presidential representative with a deciding vote.

A representative of Ecuador’s National Union of Journalists stated that the “government is looking to control every aspect of society.” One journalist argued that the new law would leave the media “subject to an endless number of sanctions.”

The International Press Institute called on Ecuador’s legislators to “exercise extreme caution” while debating the law, to ensure that local media concerns are heard and that “media freedom is not damaged.”

For more information, please see:

La Voz Libre-Human Rights Watch Critica el Proyecto de le Comunicación en Ecuador-16 December 2009

Human Rights Watch-Ecuador:Amend Draft Communications Law-15 December 2009

International Press Institute-Journalists in Ecuador Rally Against Draft Communications Law-25 November 2009

Knight Center for Journalism-Ecuador’s Disputed Media Bill Reaches Law Makers-23 November 2009

No Justice for Peruvian Protesters Killed by Police

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BAGUA, Peru-Human rights groups are calling on the Peruvian government to investigate the deaths of ten indigenous and local people killed in a violent clash at a Peruvian road blockade in June of this year. An inquiry is currently underway into the deaths of twenty-three police officers that occurred on the same day.

The violence took place after 400 police officers confronted a group of indigenous protesters staging a blockade in the town of Bagua, north of Lima. The protesters used tree trunks and boulders to block a highway to express their opposition to the lifting of restrictions on mining, oil drilling, and farming in the Amazon rain forest.

The death toll at what has been described as a peaceful protest is considered to be one of the worst in Peru in over twenty years. Amnesty International reports that in addition to the ten civilian deaths, over 200 people were injured. Amnesty International’s main concern is currently the lack of investigation into the deaths of the protesters. There have been arrests related to the deaths of police officers and indigenous leaders have reported harassment by police since the incident.

Over sixty-five indigenous groups staged a series of protests demanding to be consulted on behalf of more than 1,000 indigenous communities living in the rain forest. As a result two decrees lifting development restrictions were revoked.

Family members of protesters killed in the clash say that the government should acknowledge the protesters’ “defense of the Amazon Territory.” Amnesty International has called for reparations and justice for all of the victims, not just police officers.

James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights called for a committee to investigate the incident and to monitor efforts to find individuals who have gone missing since the rallies against the decrees began. There are reports that since the since the violence, many Indigenous leaders have gone into hiding or fled Peru.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International-Victims of Peru Amazon Violence Deserve Justice Without Discrimination-10 December 2009

Huntington News-Human Rights Groups Condemn Criminal Repression of Indigenous Community in Peru-10 December 2009

National Indigenous Times-Amnesty Calls for Peru to Remember Indigenous Victims-10 December 2009

6 Arrested for Murder of Former Chilean President

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile-A judge determined that the 1982 death of Chile’s former president Eduardo Frei Montalva was a homicide, leading to the arrest of six men. Three of the individuals have been charged with murder and three others are charged as accomplices to murder.

Judge Alejandro Madrid, who investigated the case, announced that Montalva was poisoned to death with multiple doses of thallium and mustard gas which were secretly mixed with medications and injected into his body. A human rights lawyer working for the Frei family called the murder an “action by the military intelligence of the dictator (Pinochet), with a clear and precise objective, the elimination of President Frei.”

Former aids to General Pinochet alerted the Frei family to the murder. Eugenio Barrios, a chemist who worked for the Chilean secret police is suspected of administering the poison to Frei. Barrios worked on several radical experiments including the production of anthrax, botulism, and nerve gas sarin.

Michelle Bachelet calls the arrests “good for our society.” The arrests include medical personnel and members of Pinochet’s secret police, known as the Dina. Doctors charged as accomplices are accused of conducting an illegal autopsy, removing Frei’s organs and stuffing his corpse with gauze.

Frei was president of Chile from 1964-1970.  He initially supported the 1973 military coup leading to the death of Salvador Allende. However, after severe human rights crimes came to light he emerged in opposition to the military government of Augusto Pinochet.

The murder of Frei in January of 1982 marked the beginning of the Pinochet regime systematically eliminating leaders in the democratic opposition. Former President Frei’s son is a leading candidate in Chile’s presidential election, slated for Sunday. Members of Frei’s family call the charges “a historic step.”

For more information, please see:

The Guardian-Six Arrests Over Murder of Former Chilean President-8 December 2009

AP-Ex-President Was Murdered; Six Charged-7 December 2009

Rueters-Ex-President Murder Probe Shakes Chile-7 December 2009

Suriname Dictator’s Trial Resumes With New Testimony

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOXEL,Suriname-The trial of Desi Bouterse, Suriname’s former dictator, resumed last week with new testimony. Bouterse is charged with ordering the execution of fifteen political opponents in December 1982. Eleven other individuals are also charged for these killings.

Prosecutors claim that Bouterse ordered the killing of four lawyers, four journalists, two university lecturers, two military officers, two businessmen, and a labor leader. The army claimed that it shot at the opponents because they tried to escape from the Fort Zeelandia, where they were being held after Bouterse’s security forces detained them.

Everyone who has testified at the trial so far has dismissed the army’s explanation that they were trying to escape. “Why do they have gunshot wounds on their chests and heads?” said witness Heydi de Miranda, “You would have been shot in the back.” De Miranda’s husband was killed for criticizing Bouterse’s regime.

Sali Blik, a former cameraman for a state-owned television station, testified that he saw Desi Bouterse at Fort Zeelandia sitting beside one of the victims after forcing him to make an on-camera statement. This was just hours before the man was shot.  Onno Flohr, a member of the firing squad, testified that Bouterse was present during the executions, but did not kill anyone.

The trial has been going on for over a year with numerous delays, including witnesses who fail to appear in court. Bouterse denies any direct involvement in the killings, though he has made a public apology and accepted “political responsibility” for the killings.

Bouterse seized control of Suriname in 1980, just five years after it gained independence from the Netherlands. He resigned in 1987, but briefly took power again in 1990. Bouterse is currently the chairman of Suriname’s main opposition party.

For more information, please see:

Caribbean Net News-Witness Describes Suriname’s Former Dictator as a Psychopath-3 December 2009

AP-Witness: Suriname Ex-Dictator at Execution Scene-2 December 2009

Caribbean Net News-Widow Testifies in Suriname Mass Murder Trial-2 December 2009

Peruvian Police Lie to Cover Up Impunity

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru-Peru’s police chief was forced to fire his top organized crime investigator yesterday after evidence surfaced that he and several other police officials deliberately invented a story to divert attention from unlawful police killings. Police lied when they announced that they had broken up a criminal gang who roamed the Andes that killed peasant farmers and drained fat from their dead bodies to sell to European cosmetics manufacturers.

General Felix Murga went so far as to claim to have arrested four members of the “international criminal network,” responsible for thirty to sixty murders per year in the Huanuco province. Medical experts were skeptical about the validity of the story from the beginning, saying that there is no black market for human fat.

Government officials now believe that the police force was trying to divert attention from allegations that officers killed forty-six suspects in 2007 and 2008. The former deputy interior minister, Carlos Basombrio stated that “they were mainly trying to cover up the tremendous revelation of extrajudicial killings of criminals in the town of Trujillo.”

The police played a video of a suspect confessing to the “fat trafficking” scheme at the original press conference. The police even displayed two soft drink bottles full of what they claimed to be human fat sold for nearly 10,000 pounds per liter. Victims were reportedly lured into a jungle hut where they were bludgeoned to death, dismembered, and then candles were used to melt fat off of torsos.

Investigators in Huanuco complained that they were excluded from investigating the case and now believe that the four men arrested carried out one murder, linked to the cocaine trade. Investigators say that the cocaine traffickers in custody bottled the fat of the murder victim to intimidate rival drug traffickers.

The investigation into the “fat-trafficking” story began after an unnamed police official was quoted on Monday in a newspaper saying that local police were surprised about the allegations because they knew them “not to be true.”

For more information, please see:

AFP-Officer Dismissed in Peru “human-fat” Killings-2 December 2009

BBC-Peru Officer Suspended Over Human Fat Killer’s Lie-2 December 2009

USA Today-Peru’s Kill-For-Fat Gang May Be Deadly Police Hoax-1 December 2009

Mining Company Sued for Human Rights Abuse in Peru

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LONDON, United Kingdom-The high court in London is going to hear testimony from subsistence farmers from Peru who claim that they were detained and severely tortured after a protest at a British-owned mine. The multi-million pound suit was filed against Monterrico Metals for damages arising from the alleged torture.

The allegations of torture stem from a protest in 2005. By law mine construction is allowed only with consent of two-thirds of the local population. Local farmers were protesting because construction began without local consent. Protesters were confronted by police at the mine.

Under the direction of mine managers, the police fired teargas at protesters. Twenty-eight of the protesters say that they were detained, hooded with hands tied behind their backs, beaten with sticks, and whipped. Detainees claim that noxious substances were sprayed in their faces before they were hooded, beaten with sticks and whipped. Two of the protesters were women who say they were sexually assaulted and threatened with rape.

Three protesters were shot and wounded by police, and the protesters claim one of those shot was left to bleed to death at the mine site. A postmortem examination found that he took about thirty-six hours to die.

A journalist who was apprehended with the protesters was given photographs of the arrest that were taken by a Monterrico supervisor. The photographs show bloodied protesters with their hands bound other show groups of blindfolded or hooded protesters being removed from police property. Some of the photographs show grinning police officers waving the female protesters’ underwear. Melanio Garcia, a protester is photographed in one picture alive, though severely injured and then in another photograph he is shown dead thirty hours later.

Richard Meeran, a lawyer with Leigh Day, the London law firm bringing the case, has obtained an injunction freezing five million pounds of Monterrico’s assets in the UK.

Monterrico claims that the arrests occurred because a protester shot a police officer. All claims of abuse are said to be “without merit.” Monterrico further says that it had no control over the police operation. However, lawyers for the protesters have taken statements from eyewitnesses alleging that the mine’s manager was directing the police, and say that two of the corporation’s executives had been in the area shortly before and after the police operation.

Monterrico is building Peru’s second largest copper mine at Rio Blanco in the Northwestern region of Peru. Monterrico has been in conflict with local farmers since its arrival in the region in 2001. The mining concession covers 18,858 acres, much of it covered by forest that collects rainwater and feeds it into rivers flowing into the agricultural basins below. Farmers and environmentalists fear that mining would lead to pollution and depletion of rivers, damage eco-systems, and endanger farmlands.

For more information, please see:

Telegraph-Claims Police Tortured Peruvian Protesters Outside British-Owned Mine-19 October 2009

The Guardian-Abuse Claims Against Peru Police Guarding British Firm Monterrico-18 October 2009

The Guardian-British Mining Company Faces Damages Claim After Allegations of Torture in Peru-18 October 2009

New Compensation Opportunity for Pinochet’s Victims

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO,Chile-President Michelle Bachelet created a new agency this week to protect human rights in Chile. A special committee from the institution will investigate claims for compensation based on Pinochet-era abuses.

The National Human Rights Institute will be able to recommend charges in cases where human rights are found to have been violated. Leaders of the National Human Rights Institute can be removed only by the Supreme Court, giving the institute “considerable independence.”

An official tally estimates that over 28,000 people suffered under the Pinochet government. In 2003, thousands of people received government compensation after proving they or their relatives went missing, were executed, or tortured under the Pinochet regime. Those who failed in their claims will now have a second chance to prove their case.

The agency will be given six months to build on the work of the 2003 investigative efforts. It is unclear whether torturers will be publicly identified, something that victims and their families have lobbied for. Furthermore, under the new law, victims have no right to effect prosecutions- only to seek compensation.

Estimates of Pinochet-era abuses include 3,197 political killings by the government. Of those, 1,192 people were disappeared, less than eight percent located or identified after twenty years of democracy.

President Bachelet stated that Chile needs the agency to defend its democratic institutions and prevent a repeat of Chile’s “painful history.”  Batchulet stated that the goal is to “promote a culture of peace and education about human rights principles in present and future generations.”

For more information, please see:

Brunei News-New Claims of Compensation Arise from Pinochet Era-24 November 2009

Taiwan News-Chile Creates Human Rights Watchdog Agency-24 November 2009

Radio Netherlands-Pinochet’s Victims Get Second Chance to Claim-24 November 2009

Colombian Ex-General Jailed for Role in 1997 Massacre

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia-Jaime Uscategui, a retired general, was sentenced to forty years in prison on Wednesday for his involvement in a massacre by right wing paramilitaries. A court ruled that Uscategui, who was a commander of the eighth brigade in 1997, was complicit in the murder of forty-nine civilians by paramilitaries.

In July of 1997, over 100 armed members of a right wing paramilitary groups entered the village of Mapiripzán, despite being officially banned from activity. The paramilitaries commenced a five-day killing spree, where civilians were tortured and murdered.

The military failed to stop the massacre or stop the paramilitaries at one of the many checkpoints on their way into the village. A pair of chartered planes full of right wing gunmen landed and were dispatched to oversee the mass killings form Uscategui’s area.

During the five-day massacre, the town’s judge, Ivan Cortes, repeatedly called Uscategui for help, with no response. Bodies were “hacked up and many were thrown into a river.” Hundreds of suspected leftist rebel sympathizers were killed during the 1990s.

The court overruled an earlier acquittal, finding that Uscategui abandoned the people and had knowledge that some of his officers were collaborating with paramilitaries. The forty year sentence is the highest ever to be imposed in Colombia on an officer of Uscategui’s ranking. Uscategui was also ordered to pay a fine of 10 million pesos.

The killings were committed predominantly by the Self Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), a paramilitary group organized by landowners. Another former army general, Rito Alejo del Rio, is in jail until a civilian court tries him on charges of murder for death squad killings during the mid-1990s.

Uscategui was initially arrested in 1999 and tried by a military court, where he was sentenced to forty months in prison for “omission.” A battalion commander who did not stop the Mapiripán massacre was convicted of murder in 2007 and sentenced to forty years in prison.

For more information, please see:

AP-Court Convicts Ex-General in Colombian Massacre-26 November 2009

The Guardian-Former Colombian General Jailed for Rule in Maripiripán Massacre-26 November 2009

BBC-Colombia Jails Death Squad General Over Massacre

Soy Growers Spray Paraguayan Indigenous with Pesticide

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

DEPARTMENT OF ALTO PARANÁ, Paraguay-217 indigenous Guarani were sprayed with pesticide last week after refusing to vacate their ancestral land. The government confirmed that there were no crops present where the pesticide spraying took place.

A formal eviction of the indigenous people was set for the same day, but a district prosecutor canceled the mandate right before execution. The local government’s refusal to evict the Guarani apparently led the soy growers to take matters into their own hands.

Over fifty men claiming ownership of the land arrived on November 6th and tried to remove the Guarani by force. The people resisted, using their bows and arrows. Later that day, an airplane sprayed pesticide directly above their homes. The pesticide is thought to be the same as that which is regularly used on soy crops. Over 200 people reported sickness and fainting. At least seven people were taken to the hospital. One person remains in critical condition.

Amnesty International has condemned the “use of apparently toxic pesticides to intimidate an indigenous community after they resisted being forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands.” Amnesty International noted the “worrying precedent” set by the Human Rights Commission of the Paraguayan State, who rejected a draft bill returning ancestral lands to another indigenous group, leaving ninety families homeless.

Amnesty International finds that even the most isolated indigenous groups are at risk due to deforestation. Satellite imagery shows that deforestation in the north of Paraguay occurs uninterrupted despite government regulation.

Paraguayan indigenous groups complain that they are not sufficiently protected against private commercial interests. An expert from the University of Maryland stated that the “economics and politics of Paraguay make sustained improvement unlikely.” Paraguayan researchers for Amnesty International say that “indigenous peoples’ lives are being put in jeopardy by those who should protect them,” calling the acts against the Guarani, “predictable.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Paraguay to return ancestral lands to two indigenous communities. It is not clear whether that order has been carried out. Amnesty International has urged Paraguay to recognize international human rights standards, which recognize the right to traditional lands as crucial to indigenous peoples because they are a vital element of their sense of identity, livelihood, and way of life.

For more information, please see:

Global Voices-Paraguay:Indigenous Group Sprayed Aerially with Pesticides-12 November 2009

CNN-More than 200 Paraguayan Villagers Thought Sprayed with Pesticide-11 November 2009

Amnesty International-Paraguay Indigenous Community Threatened by Illegal Eviction and Pesticide Attack-10 November 2009

Indigenous Political Prisoners Tortured in Chile

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CONCEPCIÓN, Chile-Imprisoned Mapuche activists told members of the press that they were torture, framed, and discriminated against by police and persecuted by prosecutors. The activists were arrested under a national security and anti-terrorism law adopted during the period of military dictatorship in Chile.

Charges against the activists range from “terrorist association” to attempted homicide against the prosecutor and two detectives who formed part of a team that entered a Mapuche community in 2008. One prisoner claims that the prosecutor tortured him to make him confess that he was the leader of the ambush where the two detectives were killed.

The Chilean government denies all allegations of wrongdoing. President Bachelet, who lived in exile during the military dictatorship said, “nothing, absolutely nothing justifies violence in the region of La Araucania.” The Mapuche has staged land seizures, burned vehicles, and agricultural machinery in protest of what they consider to be unauthorized land use. One government official pointed out that the violence has resulted in a significant decrease in foreign investment.

Since center-left government of Michelle Bachelet took office, thirty five percent of the disputed land has been returned to the Mapuche. However, many say that not enough progress has been made in the restoration of the ancestral land, which was taken in a government offensive that began in the late 19th century.

A 2007 international mission by the Observatory for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights found dozens of complaints of abuses, such as violent raids of Mapuche homes where police destroyed household goods and objects of cultural value, mistreated elderly people, women and children, and made racist epithets. This was allegedly done in search of activists wanted by the justice system. The Mapuche gave UNICEF the names of thirty-seven children they say were asphyxiated by tear gas.

There are nearly one million Mapuche living in Chile. Non-governmental organizations estimate that there are more than fifty Mapuche political prisoners in different prisons in Southern Chile. In September the Ethical Commission Against Torture put that number closer to 100.

The Mapuche resisted over 300 years of Spanish rule and then oppression by the Chilean state, until they were defeated militarily and cornered in the South. In the last few months, conflict has increased between the Mapuche communities and the state. This was primarily fueled by a new wave of land occupations, leading to confrontations with police.

For more information, please see:

Mapu Express-Hablan Presos Mapuche Desde la cárcel del Manzano, Concepción-19 November 2009

IPS-CHILE: Mapuche Voices from Prison-16 November 2009

Univision-Chile Utiliza Ley de la dictadura para juzgar a mapuches-16 November 2009

Peru’s Vice President Charged for Illicit Arms Deals

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru-Peru’s Vice President, Luis Giampietri is facing criminal charges for alleged irregular arms deals and faces a motion that he be removed from office. A five year investigation revealed that Giampietri was responsible for questionable arms purchases for the Peruvian Navy in 1994 and 1995.

Giampietri is a retired vice admiral in Peru’s Navy. The accusations are from the period where Giampietri was in charge of arms procurement for the Navy, when Alberto Fujimori was in office. Giampietri is accused of using his position to favor supply companies belonging to members of a corrupt network headed by then presidential security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos.

Giampietri is accused of collusion and conspiracy to commit a crime. Allegations detail how Giampietri approved purchases of military equipment from companies specifically selected by Montesinos, who then received millions of dollars in commissions in return. The money was found in his name in Switzerland. The allegedly illicit deals total 49.9 million dollars.

Giampietri denies all charges against him and insists that the arms deals did not do the state any harm, “because equipment . . . was used for national defense.” However, prosecutors are most concerned that the bidding procedure was rigged to favor companies owned by Israeli citizen Moshe Rothschild and Peruvians Enrique Benavides and Claus Corpancho.

Rothschild and Benavides have been fugitives from justice since 2001, and Corpancho has been in prison in Lima since 2007, when he was extradited from Spain. Fujimori admitted that Montesinos accepted a bribe for the sale to Peru of thirty-six MiG-29 warplanes from Belarus. Rothschild, Benavides, and Corpancho organized the sale.

The charges are the reason for the recent motion to remove Giampietri as first vice president. “We view it as improper that a person accused by a prosecutor should be acting president,” said a spokesman for the opposition Peruvian Nationalist Party.

Giampietri was also a part of the trial for those responsible for the 1986 massacre committed by naval forces during a Sendero Luminoso riot. 118 people were killed. Giampietri is among those said to be responsible for the massacre.

For more information, please see:

IPS-Peru: Vice President Accused of Corruption-14 November 2009

Defense News-Peruvian Navy Officials Probed for Contract Fraud-6 November 2009

Radio Programas del Peru-Giampietri califica de “insostenible e infundada” denuncia en su contra-5 November 2009

BP Oil Pipeline Threatens Colombian Farmers

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LONDON, England-Colombian farmers are suing the oil company BP for damages arising from the construction of a 450-mile pipeline. The lawsuit alleges that the Ocensa pipeline caused landslides and damage to soil and groundwater, caused crops to fail, livestock to die, contaminated water supplies and made fish ponds unsustainable.

The pipeline was laid from the Cusian-Cupiagua oilfields, to the port of Covenas. The region has a significant amount of paramilitary activity. Farmers say that they have been harassed and intimidated by paramilitaries employed by the Colombian government to guard the pipeline. Colombian lawyers who initially were a part of the lawsuit claim that they were intimidated by paramilitaries as well.  One lawyer fled to Britain when she found out that her name was on a paramilitary hit list. She was granted asylum in 2002.

In this case, the environmental impact assessment, which BP conducted prior to pipeline construction, allegedly showed significant risk of damage to the land. However, mostly illiterate farmers were not informed about the risk. BP expressly promised compensation to the farmers for damages caused by the pipeline and that there would be no long-term environmental damage.

The lawsuit claims damages for breach of contract and negligence. If the court accepts evidence of environmental damage, advocates believe that that would allow similar claims by other communities in developing countries who say they have been adversely affected by oil pipelines.

One farmer stated, “Now that my land has been destroyed I realize that the money I was paid for the pipeline to be build across my farm was a mere pittance and that BP took advantage of my inability to read and write and my lack of understanding of technical language.”

BP denies all of the farmers’ allegations. It argues that the main cause of soil erosion and sediment is the removal of forests by farmers for cattle grazing. BP settled outside of court in a similar lawsuit in 2002. A court hearing date has not yet been set.

For more information, please see:

Business and Human Rights Resource Center-Case Profile:BP Lawsuit(Re: Colombia)-11 November 2009

Colombia Solidarity Campaign-BP and Pipeline Damage in Colombia-11 November 2009

The Guardian-BP Faces Damages Claim Over Pipeline Through Colombia Farmland-11 November 2009

Trial Begins for Argentina’s Last Dictator

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina-Trial began for General Bignone, Argentina’s last dictator, and five former generals who are accused of kidnappings and murders during the early 1980’s. Court papers charge Bignone with “ultimate responsibility” for fifty-six cases of torture and illegal searches during this period.

As head of a military junta from 1982 to 1983, General Bignone protected the military during Argentina’s transition to democracy. He granted amnesty to human rights violators and oversaw the destruction of documents containing evidence of torture and disappearances of political opponents. Five former generals, a former colonel, and a former police commissioner are on trial with Bignone. All of the defendants deny the charges against them.

Argentine courts overthrew the amnesty law, and Bignone was formally charged in 2003. The trail was delayed until now. The trial is taking place in a small indoor stadium to accommodate a large crowd, including witnesses, federal officials, members of activist groups, and family members of the disappeared.

More than one hundred family members attended the first proceeding on Monday, some of them held photos of victims as the defendants entered the court room. Around one hundred and thirty witnesses, many of them survivors of torture, will testify.

The fifty-six cases of torture and kidnapping allegedly took place at Campo de Mayo, a military installation. General Santiago Omar Riveros, the base’s intelligence chief, is suspected of giving orders to kill some of the kidnapped individuals.

Bignone is eighty-one and has been under house arrest. He faces two other trials: one in the abduction and disappearance of doctors and nurses at a hospital and another in the case of two soldiers when he was head of the military college. The current trial is expected to last through February.

An estimated 5,000 people were held at the Campo de Mayo, one of the largest death camps in operation during the Argentine dictatorship. An official report lists 13,000 people as being killed during the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship era. Human rights groups estimate the number of dead to be closer to 30,000.

For more information, please see:

BBC-Argentine Ex-Leader Goes on Trial-3 November 2009

AP-Last Argentine Dictator, Ex-Generals go on Trial-2 November 2009

CNN-Former Argentina Dictator, 5 Others on Trial, Accused of Rights Abuses-2 November 2009

New York Times-Trial Begins for a Former President of Argentina-2 November 2009

Ecuador’s Indigenous Protest Water Privatization

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador-The Confederation of Ecuadoran Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) are expressing opposition to a new water law by protesting and blocking roadways. The movement argues that the Hydraulic Resources Law allows for the development of mining projects in areas occupied by springs that are major sources of water. Leaders also argue that the law ensures water provisions for mining companies but not for indigenous and campesino communities and does not attend to the issue of contamination of waterways.

Under the new plan, all water systems in Ecuador will be brought under centralized state authority, thus ending a system of community control over water resources. Ecological Action, a non profit organization, found that the law “contains elements of privatization for both water and land usage in as much as those resources become the sole property of the benefiting industry or business for other uses.” This is because the law allows for water resources to be acquired in the purchase of land and permits the owner to use the water however he or she sees fit.

Forty-five percent of water resources have been privatized through legal concessions, but one percent of those using water resources consume sixty-four percent of the water available and eighty-six percent of Ecuadorians consume just thirteen percent of the country’s water. Critics argue that the new law “does nothing in regard to these points and the National Development Plan favors the mining companies and flower growers.” There are no sanctions in the law for contamination or water quality control.

Indigenous communities have played a large role in the construction of water system networks, constructing irrigation canals and consumer water systems. They view the new “sole authority” provision as a direct threat to their water council system.

Responses to protests resulted in the death of a bilingual professor, who was shot by police when he joined a group of 500 that blocked a bridge over the Upano River. Protesters argue that it was a “trap” because the leaders were called to a dialogue “in order to distract the leadership and the local media.”

Currently, CONAIE has suspended protest actions because the government has opened a negotiation period. The government and indigenous leaders agreed to six points during their most recent negotiation. This included, permanent duologue between the parties, government consideration of the CONAIE water initiative, and the government will receive a mining law proposal from the indigenous movement.

Other grassroots movements continue to stage road blocks and to shut down markets. There is disagreement among grassroots organizations on what is the best strategy. While the CONAIE and Euarunari have called off protests, the Shuar and Achuar people of the southern Amazon continue to demonstrate against mining. One indigenous lawmaker remarked, “the dialogue doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t believe in them anymore.”

For more information, please see:

AP-Indian Political Awakening Stirs Latin America-2 November 2009

Daily Press-Bolivia the Standard-Bearer as Latin American Natives Fight to Protect Lands, Culture-2 November 2009

Latin American Press-Indigenous Movement Continues to Weaken-23 October 2009

Colombia’s Security Policy Compromises Human Rights

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA,Colombia-Colombia’s National Planning Council blames the government’s “Democratic Security” policy and fight against drugs for the systematic increase in human rights violations. The National Planning Council is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with formulating, monitoring, and evaluating government policy.

President of the council, Adolfo Atehortua, called Colombia’s anti-drug policy a failure. He pointed out that drug production has not decreased and spraying to kill illicit crops has increased poverty in rural areas. “The general and indiscriminate aerial spraying of crops damages farmers who have no other options, the helpless producers . . . but does not eliminate the persistency of the drug plantations,” Atehortua said.

Atehortua further stressed that Colombia has become a consumer of drugs in addition to its exporting role. He recommended that soft drugs be legalized as part of an international campaign. Atehortua argued that legalizing the production of soft drugs, such as marijuana, would provide an opportunity for many farmers to “come out of hiding to develop real centers of agricultural production.”

Atehortua denounced the government’s security policy and the collaboration with the U.S. State Department.  The main point of criticism was the large number of “false positive cases”, where members of the armed forces have executed civilians and then presented them as guerrillas killed in combat in order to boost success figures. These acts have been denounced by the United Nations.

Atehortua called the “humanitarian crisis” the “dark side” of the Democratic Security Policy. Colombia is slated to sign a controversial security pact with the United States to enhance its war on “narcoterrorism” this week.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports-Council:Government Security Policy Caused Increase in Human Rights Violations-27 October 2009

El Pais-Colombia Avanza en Seguridad, pero no en derechos humanos-27 October 2009

El Espectador-Consejo Nacional de Planeación insiste en legalización de la droga-27 October 2009