Inter-American Rights Watch

IACHR Notifies Brazil of Filing of Case Regarding Lack of Investigation Into Extrajudicial Executions of Teenagers

By: Rafael Sbeghen Freitas

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BELÉM, Brazil – On June 16th, 2023, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted to the IDH Court the 12,398 case of Brazil, regarding the extrajudicial execution of teenagers Max Cley Mendes, Marciley Roseval Melo Mendes, and Luís Fábio Coutinho da Silva, during a slaughter that took place on December 13th, 1994 and became to be known as “The Massacre of Tapanã.”

Four of the accused policeman facing trial twenty four years after the executions | Photo Courtesy of Portal G1

The accusation reports that the Military Police officers received orders from higher authorities to locate and apprehend the murderers of Military Police Corporal Waldemar Paes Nunes, who had been a victim of robbery-murder moments earlier in an area nearby the “Tapanã Highway” in Belém, Pará. The information indicated that the perpetrators of the corporal’s murder had also stolen his firearm. The officers took police vehicles to carry out the order and brought with them the victim’s property caretaker as a witness, who had allegedly seen the corporal being murdered after his weapon was stolen.

According to court records, the police officers reportedly spotted Max Cley Mendes, Marciley Rosenaldo Melo Mendes, and Luiz Fabio Coutinho da Silva, who were recognized by the witness as the perpetrators of the robbery-murder that claimed the corporal’s life. After being approached, the suspects were handcuffed and executed. Eyewitnesses reported that four young individuals were apprehended: two of them were handcuffed and executed even before they entered the police vehicle and the other two had apparently tried to escape into the nearby wooded area, but were also executed after a pursuit.

The trial of the seventeen accused policemen happened only twenty four hours after, and resulted in the acquittal of all of them based on lack of evidence. The prosecutor did not appeal the decision.

Historically, in Brazil, the violent use of police force evolved from being a means of political control during the military dictatorship into a tool for social control, particularly in the context of managing criminality in the current days. The country still struggles to maintain civilian control of the military police and the military itself, notoriously being unable to properly investigate, prosecute and discipline the majority of crimes committed by those forces.

In that context, the Commission determined that the State violated the victims’ right to life and personal integrity and concluded that the operation did not adhere to the appropriate regulations for the use of force, and the agents failed to apply the criteria of necessity and proportionality. It was also stated that these events occurred within a context of state permissiveness towards police abuses and that the victims had endured torture prior to their execution.

The Brazilian state was notified of the filing on September 25th, and now has the opportunity to present a countercharge.

For further information, please see:

Brasil de Fato – What is Behind Police Brutality? – 06 Oct. 2023

Humans Rights Watch – Prosecutors Should Lead Police Killings Inquiries – 12 Sep. 2023

IACHR – Caso Cley Mendes y Otros vs. Brasil – 16 Jun. 2023

IACHR – IACHR Files Case with IA Court on Lack of Investigation Into Extrajudicial Executions of Adolescents in Brazil – 28 Aug. 2023



IACHR Rules Guatemala Must Halt Legislative Action on Bills Providing Amnesty to Perpetrators of Human Rights Abuses

By: Jacob Riederer

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

GUATEMALA – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a ruling on October 23, 2023, requiring Guatemalan authorities to take action to prevent the adoption of two proposed bills that would provide immunity to those alleged to have committed human rights atrocities.

Members of the Guatemalan Congress featured above have introduced bill 5920 “Law on Consolidation of Peace and Reconciliation” and Bill 6099 “Law on Strengthening Peace.” | Photo courtesy of Reuters/Luis Echeverria

Between, 2002 and 2018 the IACHR ruled on 14 cases alleging forced disappearances, executions, torture, war crimes, genocide and other issues that took place during Guatemala’s civil war. These rulings resulted in investigations, trials, and sentences for those responsible for these heinous actions. 

Bill 5377, introduced in the Guatemalan Legislature in 2019, threatened to invalidate these rulings. If passed, the bill would have halted investigations and provided amnesty to those convicted in the 14 cases. Proponents of the bill and ones like it argue that it would allow the nation to heal divisions from the civil war. Others assert that it’s unfair to hold those accountable since these crimes were not specifically codified into law at the time. 

In 2019, the IACHR issued ruling requiring that Guatemala “guarantee the right to access to justice for the victims” of the 14 cases and to take action to prevent the passage of Bill 5377. The Government of Guatemala complied with the ruling and Bill 5377 was tabled and not passed into law. 

Recently, however, two new Bills, 5920 and 6099, were introduced to the Guatemalan Congress that would give amnesty to the perpetrators of human rights abuses during the Guatemalan Civil War. Notably, these bills not only immediately free those convicted of crimes but punish prosecutors, judges, and courts that attempt to review or dispute this law.

In response, representatives of victims of crimes perpetrated during conflict asked the court to “suspend and correspondingly definitively table” the bills, arguing that that the newly proposed laws violate IACHR’s previous ruling and have the same purpose as the previously invalidated 5377 bill in erasing liability for those convicted of serious human rights atrocities.

The Government of Guatemala maintains that they are in compliance with the court’s previous resolution, asserting that the ruling to table legislation only applied to Bill 5377. It further argues that Guatemala already has legislative and judicial “mechanisms to guarantee constitutionality and compatibility with conventional norms” with respect to these two bills.

The court sided with representatives of victims noting that both bills “seek to declare the extinction of criminal responsibility and absolute amnesty regarding all crimes committed during the internal armed confrontation.” Because of this, they are in violation of the court’s 2019 ruling which forbade Guatemala to put forth claims “excluding responsibility that prevent the investigation of the violations of serious human rights.”

Further, the court rejected the government’s argument that there are already national measures in place to ensure checks on the legal and constitutional validity of the laws, arguing that “there is a high risk that judicial control cannot be carried out internally.” This is because the bills would require the immediate release of those convicted before a review process may be able to take place. 

Additionally, the provisions in the bill mandate criminal punishments for prosecutors, judges and courts officials seeking to review the law and hold the offending parties accountable.   The court also notes the potential for harassment, intimidation, and threats to Guatemalan judicial officials in this situation based on past accounts of this in these cases.  The courts, therefore, see these laws as harmful because of their potential to eliminate judicial independence, review and safety.

In the resolution, the court also required the Guatemalan government to present a report on how it’s complying with the ruling no later than December 4, 2023 and to continue sharing updated compliance reports every three months thereafter.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International, Guatemala – Bill Could Grant Amnesty For Grave Crimes: Bill 5377 – January 29, 2019

Epicentro – Guatemala, FADS – Iniciativas de ley para «reconciliación» son inconstitucionales – 14 Sept 2022

Epicentro-Guatmala – Iniciativas Legislativas Para Amnistiar Graves Violaciones a Los Derechos Humanos, Reincidencia del Estado de Guatemala – 26 OCT 2023

IACHR, Resolución de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos:  Caso De Los Miembros De La Andrea Chichupac Y Comunidades Vecinas Del Municipio de Rabinal. Caso Molina Theissen Y Otros 12 Casis Contra Guatemala – 20 OCT 2023

IACHR – Resolución de La Corte Interamericana De Derecho Humanos: Caso de Los Miembros De La Aldea Chichupac Y Comunidades Vecinas Del Municipio de Rabinal Caso Molina Theiseen Y Otros 12 Casos Contra Guatemala -12 MAR 2019

International Justice Monitor – In Defiance of Court Rulings, Guatemalan Congressional Leaders Push Amnesty Bill – 5 SEPT 2019

Prensa Libre – Tercer Intento Para Motivar a La Aprobación de Una Ley de Amnistía – 6 AUG 2022

Prensa Libre – Congreso Envía Nueva Consulta a La CC Sobre Iniciativa que Busca Aprobar Una Amnistía Para Los Delitos del Conflicto Armado Interno – 23 OCT 2023





IACHR and Special Rapporteurship for Freedom and Expression Show Concern Over Continued Repression of Indigenous Communities in Nicaragua

By: Gavin Gretsky

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

NICARAGUA – The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom and Expression (RELE) of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) recently released a statement expressing concern over the repression of indigenous communities along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. RELE and the IACHR expressed concern over violence by settlers against native communities, the shutdown of indigenous radio stations, and the YATAMA party having its status revoked.

A woman protests outside of the Organization of the American States against human rights violations committed by the Nicaraguan government | Photo Courtesy of AP

Settlers encroaching into indigenous communities has been an ongoing issue for indigenous communities in Nicaragua, however the encroachment and violence has escalated recently. The land inhabited by the Mayanga and Miskito along the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is traditionally used for small scale farming, hunting, and fishing. According to community leaders, settlers forcibly occupy these lands for the purpose of commercial exploitation of natural resources. This occupation is often combined with violence, resulting in property destruction, kidnappings, and murder. Despite this violence, there has been no action by the government to prevent further conflict.  While the IACHR has directed the Nicaraguan government to protect these communities the government has not responded despite Nicaragua’s acceptance of the IACHR’s jurisdiction.

The closure of indigenous radio stations also concerned the IACHR and RELE. In the coastal Caribbean region, there were two indigenous radio stations that had been in operation for over two decades, run by the YATAMA opposition party, and were primarily used to advocate for and spread indigenous culture, often in indigenous languages. The Nicaraguan telecommunications regulator stated that the radio stations were confiscated by the government due to operating without the proper permits. However, local leaders state that this was done to silence opposition to the government. The IACHR and RELE are concerned with the closure of the radio stations because they served an important role in facilitating public debate and their closure creates “silence areas” where only state run media is available.

Lastly, the IACHR and RELE brought attention to the legal status of the YATAMA party being revoked. YATAMA was a political party in opposition to the governing FSLN party and is rooted in the Miskito people, the largest indigenous community in Nicaragua. The Supreme Electoral Council announced the revocation came because YATAMA “misrepresented reality in the country” in violation of Act 1055. Prior to its revocation, YATAMA was the only political party that could challenge the FSLN in the coastal regions of Nicaragua. The revocation also comes on the eve of regional elections, which advocates state was done to create a single-party system.

Additionally, YATAMA leaders have also come under attack from the government. Former party leaders, Brooklyn Rivera and Elizabeth Henriquez were both arrested with no reason given by the government and their whereabouts are currently unknown according to IACHR. The IACHR stated that this restriction on political opposition would violate many rights and freedoms, including the freedom of expression and association.

In its conclusion, the IACHR and RELE called on the Nicaraguan government to end its repression against indigenous peoples, against YATAMA, and to provide the location and health conditions of those arrested.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Indigenous people in northeast Nicaragua say armed settlers are pushing them off their land – 10 Aug. 2023

Confidencial – Ortega’s Elimination of the Yatama Party: A mistake of the past and present – 10 Oct. 2023

Havana Times – Police Arrest Indigenous Legislator from Her Home – 2 Oct. 2023

IACHR – IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Urge Nicaragua to End Repression Against Indigenous Communities in Its Caribbean Coast – 10 Oct. 2023

UNHR – Oral update by the ASG on the Situation of Human Rights in Nicaragua – 3 Mar. 2023

Reuters – Nicaraguan indigenous party says government has barred it ahead of local elections – 4 Oct. 2023

The Tico Times – Nicaragua Accused of Attacking Miskito People – 8 Oct. 2023

Brazil Criminalizes Use of Homophobic Slurs

By: Molly Osinoff

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

BRAZIL – In August 2023, Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court held, by a 9-1 vote, that homophobic slurs are punishable by prison. The Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites, Transsexuals and Intersexes (ABGLT), an organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ people’s citizenship and human rights, brought the case to the Supreme Court.

People marching holding a large rainbow flag | Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In 2019, Brazil’s highest court ruled that homophobia was a crime. The decision made homophobia, as applied to the LGBTQ+ community, a crime. The recent court ruling, however, applies to attacks directed at specific individuals.

In Brazil, there is a difference between racism, which punishes discriminatory offenses against a group of people, and making a racial insult, which is a crime that penalizes a person for using race to offend another person’s dignity. ABGLT argued that a distinction between homophobia and using homophobic slurs should be made to provide broader protection to Brazil’s LGBTQ community. ABGLT advocated for a law against homophobic insults, mirroring the law prohibiting racial insults. The recent court decision effectively equates homophobia to racism.

Despite transphobia’s classification as a crime in Brazil for the past three years, Brazil is the country with the highest number of transgender and queer people murdered in the world. A report published by Transgender Europe, a network of organizations that collects and analyzes data regarding transphobia, stated that 70 percent of murders of transgender people globally have occurred in South America and Central America. Thirty-three percent of those murders occurred in Brazil.

The Court’s ruling, a recent achievement for the LGBTQ community, comes after the conclusion of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term. Bolsonaro has famously said: “”I would not be able to love a gay son. I would rather he die in an accident.” During Bolsonaro’s presidency, Brazil’s education ministry terminated its department dedicated to diversity and human rights, reversing much progress that has been made during the past ten years, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2013 and the legalization of name and gender changes in 2018.

The recent court decision is an important step forward in protecting Brazil’s LGBTQ community. According to the national LGBTI+ Alliance, a Brazilian LGBQT rights group, “Such a decision brings legal certainty and reinforces the court’s understanding with regard to the principle of equality and nondiscrimination.” Minister Edson Fachin called this decision “a constitutional imperative.” Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court has officially demonstrated its intent to hold individuals accountable for their homophobic language.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Jair Bolsonaro: Controversial Far-Right Politician Elected as Brazil’s Next President, Beating Rival Fernando Haddad – 28, Oct. 2018.

Barron’s – Brazil High Court Rules Homophobia Punishable By Prison – 22, Aug. 2023.

Buenos Aires Times – Brazil High Court Rules Homophobia Punishable by Prison – 23, Aug. 2023.

Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites, Transsexuals and Intersexes (ABGLT).

Brasil de Fato – Brazil continues to be the country with the largest number of trans people killed – 23, Jan. 2022.

Transgender Europe – Trans Murder Monitoring Update – 11, Nov. 2021.

Washington Post – LGBT Rights Under Attack in New Far-Right President – 18, Feb. 2019.

Inter-American Commission of Human Rights Condemns Rising Violence Against Journalists in Haiti

By: Molly Osinoff 

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – On October 3, 2023, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) published a statement condemning the increasing violence against journalists and media outlets in Haiti. The statement further urged Haitian authorities to “investigate in a thorough, effective, and impartial manner what happened, to prosecute and punish those responsible…”  

People carry a journalist who was tear gassed by the police during a protest over the death of journalist Romelo Vilsaint in Port-au-Prince | Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press

Haitian journalists have faced increasing violence in Haiti. Numerous journalists have been the victims of threats, abuse, and murder. In September 2022, while reporting in an area in the capital controlled by gangs, two reporters were fatally shot, and their bodies were set on fire. In August 2023, gunmen set fire to journalist Arnold Junior Pierre’s home. He had, weeks earlier, been assaulted by a group of unidentified people. In September 2023, at least twelve journalists fled their homes in the Carrefour Feuilles district, which is home to many journalists, in the wake of increased violence by gangs controlling the area. Media facilities have also been subject to attack. Gang members allegedly set a radio station facility on fire in July 2023. 

Haiti’s Constitution specifically addresses the right to freedom of expression. Article 28 of the Haitian Constitution protects the right to express one’s opinion freely by any means. Furthermore, the Constitution also addresses journalists. Article 28-1 states: “Journalists shall freely exercise their profession within the framework of the law. Such exercise may not be subject to any authorization or censorship, except in the case of war.” To further support journalists, the Constitution states that offenses involving the press and abuses of freedom of expression are to be considered under the code of criminal law.  

The violence journalists face is part of the rising gang violence that has been overwhelming Haiti since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. Since then, no leader has been elected. Armed gangs have taken control of up to 90 percent of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, engaging in widespread public killing, rape, and displacement. Between January 2023 and early August 2023, according to the United Nations, more than 2,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, and more than 950 people in Haiti were kidnapped. Over 200,000 people have fled their homes. Because journalists cover the extent of gang violence, they are often the victims of brutal attacks or murders by armed gangs seeking to maintain their power. 

As RELE emphasizes, violence against journalists violates the fundamental rights of individuals and freedom of expression. Violence affects more than the journalists themselves and their family members. Instead, the violence against journalists affects society as a whole by preventing citizens from being informed about issues that truly affect their lives and poses a threat to freedom of expression. 

For more information, please see: 

AP News – 2 Journalists Killed in Haiti While Reporting on Violence – 13, Sept. 2022. 

AP News – Witnesses: Journalist Killed After Police in Haiti Open Fire – 30, Oct. 2022. 

Constitution of Haiti (1987). 

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – RELE Condemns the Escalation of Violence Against Journalists in Haiti and Calls for Comprehensive Solutions with the Accompaniment of the International Community – 3, Oct. 2023. 

New York Times – Kenyan-Led Security Mission in Haiti: What to Know – 2, Oct. 2023. 

Reuters – Americas Rights Court Condemns Violence Against Haiti Journalists – 3, Oct. 2023. 

Washington Post – U.S. Embassy in Haiti Tells Americans to Leave “As Soon As Possible” – 31, Aug. 2023.