UN reports more than 100 activists murdered in Colombia in 2017

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Columbia – The United Nations reports that more than 100 human rights activists have been killed in Colombia in 2017, denouncing the government’s inactions.

Colombia’s government and rebels signed peace accords and ended their civil war this year. Image Courtesy of Anadolu Agency.

The UN urges the Colombian government to be more accountable and provide better protections for its activists. The peace accord, which ended a 50-year civil war, was signed by the Colombian government and FARC rebels last year. Since it was signed, activists have been particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by rebel fighters. These zones are often rural and now have a power vacuum because of the withdrawal of rebels.

The UN report shows that more than half of the 105 human rights activists and community leaders murdered this year were killed by gunmen. At least eleven other cases are still under investigation. This count does not yet include the events that transpired in December, when a community leader in Puerto Colombia, Putumayo was murdered along with his eight-year-old daughter. The activist, Pablo Oviedo, was walking with his daughter when they were ambushed by multiple gunmen and shot several times. They were declared dead at a hospital in Puerto de Asis. Oviedo’s two brothers are both human rights activists and have been declared missing.

Even more tragically, these murders occurred hours after the Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas participated in a security council meeting to address the city’s increased violence. Social leaders that attended this meeting wore masks to avoid being victims of the violence.

The UN human rights office states, “We note with deep concern the persistence of cases of killings of human rights defenders in the country. Cases of killings of male and female leaders and [rights] defenders have occurred in areas from which the FARC has left, and which has created a vacuum of power by the state.”

To put this in perspective, UN reports show that 45 rights defenders were killed in 2014, 59 in 2015, and 127 in 2016. Local groups explain that leaders who speak out against rights abuses and activists campaigning for land rights are targeted because they threaten the economic interests of organized crime groups. Most victims belong to Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups.

In December, Defense Minister Villegas stated that authorities are working to bring those responsible for the murders to justice. The UN human rights office maintains that “the prevention of attacks and aggressions against human rights defenders involves investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible.”

Out of all recorded murders of human rights defenders last year, three out of four took place in the Americas.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – More than 100 human rights activists killed in Colombia in 2017, UN says – 21 December 2017

Telesur – Murder of Colombian Social Leader Highlights UN Condemnation – 21 December 2017

Business Standard – More than 100 rights and labour activists killed in Colombia – 21 December 2017

Democracy Now – Colombia: 100 Human Rights Activists Killed in 2017, According to U.N. – 21 December 2017

Thomson Reuters – Colombia rights activists facing danger, U.N. says – 20 December 2017

Former Peruvian president granted divisive pardon

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – Alberto Fujimori ruled Peru in the 1990s and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses and corruption. On Sunday, Peru’s current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, granted him a medical pardon.

Protestors gather outside of the hospital where Fujimori is being treated. Image Courtesy of Guadalupe Pardo.

Fujimori expressed his gratitude to President Kuczynski in a video from his hospital bed. He explains that the pardon had a strong impact on him, creating “a mix of extreme happiness as well as sorrow.” He stated, “I’m aware that the results produced by my government were well received by some, but I recognize that I have let down others. Those I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

Fujimori suspended civil liberties and oversaw a violent crackdown on the opposition during his presidency from 1990 to 2000. In 2007, he was extradited from Chile and sentenced to jail for six years on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Two years later, he was sentenced to another 25 years for human rights abuses from his rule. Fujimori was convicted of authorizing military death squads.

Critics denounce the pardon and claim it was motivated by a desire to reward Fujimori’s son, Kenji. The congressman helped the president survive a crucial impeachment vote last week when the conservative Popular Force party, who controls Congress, tried to impeach him over a corruption scandal. However, they failed because Kenji split the party’s vote, thus allowing the president to stay in power.

President Kuczynski’s office states that he granted a “humanitarian pardon” to Fujimori and seven other people in similar condition. Doctors have declared that he has a progressive, degenerative, and incurable illness.

However, protestors rallied as soon as the pardon came to light and claim that the pardon was carried out in an illegal manner. They say the president was trying to save his own skin and the pardon was treason. One protestor stated, “The reality is that this sadly was a political agreement between the Fujimorists and the current government.”

Activists and protestors gathered by the thousands in Lima, the capital, in late December. Human rights experts and political analysts join in the criticism. President Kuczynski pardoned one of the few Latin American strongmen who has been held accountable in judicial proceedings for abuses committed during his reign. The South American representative for the UN High Commission for Human Rights claims that “not putting victims at the center of this decision derails the progress the Peruvian state has made on truth, justice, memory, and reparations.”

The pardon has already cost the president the support of three allies in Congress. They resigned in protest and leave him with only 15 allies left in the lawmaking body.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Peru’s Alberto Fujimori speaks after divisive pardon – 26 December 2017

NY Times – From a Hospital Bed, Alberto Fujimori Asks Peru to ‘Forgive Me’ – 26 December 2017

Latina – Thousands of Peruvians Protest the Pardon of Former President Fujimori – 26 December 2017

Bloomberg – Peru’s President Back Under Fire for Freeing Leader – 26 December 2017

CNN – Peru’s ex-leader Fujimori asks for forgiveness amid heated protests – 26 December 2017

Argentina passes controversial pension reform amid protests

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s government passed a controversial reform of the country’s pension system on Tuesday, December 19. The bill has prompted violent protests in the city’s capital.

A demonstrator waves an Argentine flag outside of Congress. Image Courtesy of Victor R. Caivano.

After 12 hours of debate and several demonstrations outside of the chamber, the reform passed the lower house by a 128-116 vote. The legislation had already cleared the Senate and would essentially change the formula by which pension benefits are calculated. It bases them largely on inflation instead of wage growth and tax contributions, which economists expect to lower the amounts paid. Another controversial change in the new law is the increase in retirement age from 65 to 70 for men and from 60 to 63 for women. Protestors have communicated their fear that the changes will have a heavy impact on the poor.

This legislation is a key element of the economic changes being implemented by President Mauricio Macri’s government. The goal is to reduce Argentina’s high deficit and attract investments. At a press conference at the presidential palace, the president said, “We’ve created a formula that defends (retirees) from inflation and guarantees that they will be better. Our priority is to take care of the retirees.”

However, opposition law makers, union leaders, and other critics attack the bill. They claim it will cut pension and retirement payments. Also, it could take away aid for some poor families because consumer prices are expected to decrease. Opposition lawmaker Agustin Rossi states, “We tried to impede it from passing, but we couldn’t get the numbers. This harms retirees.”

The vote was originally scheduled for a week earlier, but civil unrest delayed it. In response, President Macri promised an additional payment to existing pensioners as a concession. However, demonstrations continued. The day before the vote, protestors threw stones, fireworks, and improvised explosive devices at police. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in turn. Protests continued into the night. Almost 150 people were injured in these riots and about 60 were arrested.

Regardless of the protestors’ violent clashes with police, Congress approved the measures the next morning. The opposition called for peaceful protests to continue. Argentines have had a tradition of marching while banging pots and pans since the 2001-2002 economic collapse. Demonstrators have continued this peaceful form of protest. Argentina’s largest union contributed by calling a 24-hour strike which grounded hundreds of flights.

President Macri acknowledged that there will undoubtedly be people who disagree with the reforms. He said, “It would be illogical to have unanimity. But I’m asking them not to doubt the intention because I’m convinced that it will help them.”

For more information, please see:

Times of Malta – Violent clashes erupt in Buenos Aires as Congress tries at pension reform – 19 December 2017

Fox News – Argentina’s Congress approves pension reform amid strikes – 19 December 2017

BBC News – Argentina passes pension reform despite violent protests – 19 December 2017

Reuters – Argentina Congress passes pension reform after protests, clashes – 19 December 2017

Miami Herald – Argentina leader defends pension reforms approved in Congress – 19 December 2017

UN expert reports no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — An independent expert for the UN’s top human rights body was allowed a rare visit to Venezuela. After spending a week in the country and assessing the situation, he reported that there is no humanitarian crisis.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza meets with UN expert. Image Courtesy of CancilleriaVE.

Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert on International Democratic and Equitable Order at the UN, made his visit in late November to assess the social and economic progress in Venezuela. He said he met with 16 government ministers, opposition groups, and “victims of repression,” and reported that the government did not give him any problems.

This was the first visit by a UN rights expert to Venezuela since 1996. De Zayas remarked, “I have succeeded in opening the door. After 21 years, Venezuela has accepted a UN expert to spend eight days there.”

During his visit, he pleaded with the government to release more than 20 people in custody. In addition, he gave a total of six pages of recommendations. Venezuela has already met one recommendation by agreeing to cooperate with some unspecified UN agencies.

While the country is being accused of undermining democracy, it also struggles with inflation and shortages of food and medicine. Its economy has taken severe hits since the decline in global oil prices in 2014. Contrary to most media reporting, De Zayas assured that there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. He said he agrees with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the Economic Commission for Latin America who deny the humanitarian crisis.

However, he conceded that there are some shortages and delays in distribution. He has called on the international community to be aware of the monopolies, smuggling, and corruption that has emerged under the US-led economic and financial war. The conflict has resulted in pressures and sanctions. Last year, over 750 opposition-controlled offshore companies were accused of purposefully redirecting Venezuelan imports of raw food materials from the government to the private sector. On top of that, international sanctions have blocked millions of tons of food and other supplies from reaching the Venezuelan people.

De Zayas also remarked that the opposition and private media label the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis in an effort to promote international intervention. Opposition leaders made “the opening of a humanitarian channel” one of its chief demands in negotiations with the national government. He called the mainstream media coverage of the country “theatrical, hyperbole, and an exaggeration,” and said it does not help to resolve any problems. However, he said international solidarity is necessary to help them overcome the current crisis.

The UN expert will create recommendations to address Venezuela’s crisis and present them to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018. He is now on his way to Ecuador for a similar investigative visit.

Finally, De Zayas has faced some criticism from advocacy groups. The UN Watch, among others,  alleged he was carrying out a “fake” investigation during his trip.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – In rare visit, UN expert pleads with Venezuela – 12 December 2017

Chron – In rare visit, UN expert talks with Venezuela – 12 December 2017

Prensa Latina – UN Expert Notifies Social Progress in Venezuela and Ecuador – 12 December 2017

Venezuela Analysis – UN Expert: No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela – 6 December 2017

Telesur – No Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela, says UN Expert, Condemning International Sanctions – 5 December 2017

Mosquitos still a risk to Brazil public health

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Although the number of Zika cases have dropped significantly, Brazil’s public health is still threatened as summer approaches. Outbreaks of Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever are all possible in the coming warmer climate.

The larvae of the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Image Courtesy of Eduardo Knapp.

All three of these diseases are carried by the same bug, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is endemic to Brazil. The Zika outbreak received the most attention in 2015. The world watched as mosquitos plagued the country and created tragic stories of malformations in babies of infected women. Although Dengue and Chikungunya fevers were not in the spotlight, they were spread by the same mosquito and caused a record 800 deaths in Brazil that same year. Most of these deaths occurred in the impoverished northeast region where urbanization grows rapidly. In total, these mosquitos infected approximately 4 million people in the country.

However, statistics show that Brazil has seen some improvement since then. Only 16,800 new cases of Zika were reported from January to November in 2017. This is compared to the 214,100 cases during those months in 2016. Similarly, the number of cases of Dengue fever and Chikungunya fever also fell by 83.7% this year.

Despite these positive trends, at least 357 Brazilian cities are still at risk of a renewed outbreak. These cities are considered at risk because larvae from infectious mosquitos were found in more than 4% of properties visited. In comparison, 2,450 cities were found to be a satisfactory situation where mosquito larvae were found in less than 1% of property. The Northeastern area has the highest number of cities at risk. Scientists expect outbreaks in the upcoming summer because conditions are conducive for mosquitos to thrive. They warn that the most common type of breeding site for these mosquitos are storage areas of water in drums, barrels, and vats.

Of the diseases, Dengue fever is the most dangerous and can be lethal in its hemorrhagic form. Chikungunya can lead to chronic joint problems as well. As the mildest of the three diseases, Zika still poses severe risks because of its effect on pregnant women. When women are infected during gestation, their fetuses can develop malformations such as microcephaly. Microcephalic newborns’ brains do not develop properly and are left with smaller than normal heads. This can lead to intellectual disabilities, poor motor functions, and several other issues.

One example of mosquitos’ ability to spread disease comes from the Acre State in Brazil. For decades, residents lived in the perfect climate for mosquitos, yet there were none to be found. In 2000, it got its first case of Dengue, and only ten years later there were 35,000 cases. Studies link this sudden infection to commercial development. Researchers wrote, “the landscape changes that occurred in the last decade have created favorable conditions for the establishment of dengue virus transmission.” New roads and airstrips provided jobs and economic advancement, but also more mosquitos and hosts for the virus. The increase in human movement caused their capital Rio Branco to go from classification as “dengue-free” to “highest risk” by the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

For more information, please see:

Folha De S.Paulo – Brazil Has at Least 357 Cities at Risk of a Renewed Aedes Linked Outbreak – 29 November 2017

Xinhua Net – Outbreak risks remain in summer though Zika cases down 92 pct in Brazil – 29 November 2017

NPR – Why a Brazilian State Went From 0 Cases of Dengue To 35,000 A Year – 28 November 2017

ICFI – Brazil cuts science budget amid mounting yellow fever threat – 8 November 2017

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