Scroll Top

Chile cries out for reforms, unrest in Haiti, and a regional plan to protect environmental rights defenders (Demo)

Historical demands and deficits in the enjoyment of rights in Chile

Between 25 and 31 January, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited Chile, on invitation from the government. The visit’s objective was to follow up on reports of human rights violations that took place during the large protests that took over the country in late 2019. The delegation visited not only the capital, Santiago, but also Arica, Temuco, Ercilla, Concepción, Antofagasta, and Valparaíso. During the mission, IACHR experts and staff met with more than 900 individuals, victims and their families.

The country visit builds on previous communication and requests for information between the Commission and the State during 2019, including a preliminary visit carried out by its Executive Secretary in November. The Commission had already released a statement raising grave concern over the very high number of reports of violence and condemning the excessive use of violence by police and military forces.

“The demonstrations of dissatisfaction and protests registered in Chile since October 2019 are the result of the expression of a growing, accumulated and intergenerational dissatisfaction in relation to access to and enjoyment of social rights, public services and better levels of wellbeing.”

On the last day, the IACHR delegation presented preliminary findings and recommendations.

The Commission noted that Chile has strong democratic institutions and has seen important economic development in past decades. However, concerns remain in relation to the investigation of – and accountability for – human rights violations during its dictatorial period. The Commission also noted that, despite economic progress, inequality remains a serious concern: “{T}he demonstrations of dissatisfaction and protests registered in Chile since October 2019 are the result of the expression of a growing, accumulated and intergenerational dissatisfaction in relation to access to and enjoyment of social rights, public services and better levels of wellbeing”.

The recent cycle of protests are but the last in a series of successive cycles in the last decades; each with different formats, and in which different social movements have been protagonists: students, women, and indigenous peoples, among others. Despite such common mobilizations, it is clear that Chile still needs to create efficient spaces and instruments for improved participation and dialogue.

During the mission, the IACHR updated the numbers of documented violations. The number of deaths was raised to 29, four of which resulted from direct action by state agents, or took place under the custody of Carabineros. The Ministry for Health collected data from its emergency services and pointed to a total of 13,046 individuals injured in protests between 18 October and 19 December 2019. The National Human Rights Institute documented 1,624 hospitalized victims of rubber bullets, with 405 cases of eye injuries, 33 of which resulted in long term damage or total loss of vision.

The Commission collected many testimonies of victims of sexual abuse, including rape. Women were repeatedly subject to forced nudity, sentadillas and threats of violation. Serious instances of violence and discrimination were reported against LGBTQI+ protesters.

The situation of indigenous peoples demonstrating in their struggle for the recognition of their historical land claims was also highlighted by the Commission, which was particularly worried about the use of the Anti-terrorism Law against indigenous activists, and judicial proceedings carried out in secrecy.

The Commission also reported on many cases of torture currently under investigation, the use of surveillance against various groups, as well as the criminalization of protesters by the use of disproportionate criminal accusations, including 959 cases under the Internal Security Law.

In response to this context, the IACHR has presented 20 preliminary recommendations, including:  to conduct an integral institutional reform of the Carabineros de Chile;  to ensure access to justice for victims of violations in the context of demonstrations;  to promote and guarantee the independence of key investigative and human rights bodies;  and, to prepare a report on the events that have taken place since 18 October 2019, to be put together by an independent mechanism, in which social participation is to be ensured.

Haiti – Political uncertainty and social unrest 

Haiti was another country visited by the IACHR in mid-2019. Since then, the Commission has been following up on the political, economic and social situation in the country, having issued a number of statements, including most recently in January 2020, where it expressed concern over the pending elections for Congress. Due to the non-approval of the Electoral Law, the mandates of legislators have expired. Elections were due in November, but were not called. The expiration of the mandates of legislators means that other important pieces of legislation, such as the approval of the 2020 budget and the confirmation of the Prime Minister, are also on hold.

This situation only adds to the fragility of the institutional arrangements and the overall social crisis faced by Haitians in 2019. It was a year marked by protests, which started in 2018 after the government announced a fuel price increase of up to 50 percent. Fuel prices were, of course, only the trigger. Corruption, inflation, and scarcity of basic goods have afflicted a country also impoverished by a series of natural catastrophes. In January 2020, the country marked the 10th anniversary of a major earthquake, which – according to World Vision  – “was the most devastating natural disaster ever experienced in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Roughly 250,000 lives were lost and 300,000 people were injured. About 1.5 million individuals were forced to live in makeshift internally displaced person camps”.

“On multiple occasions, journalists covering breaking political news or protests have been shot at by protesters, security forces, and even elected officials”.

The demonstrations have faced police repression, with many reports of excessive use of force.

The UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) investigated violence surrounding the October 2018 demonstrations and pointed to the involvement of police officers in three summary executions and 47 cases of excessive force that injured 44 protesters and killed another three. According to Human Rights Watch’s recently launched annual report, “in February 2019, as police sought to remove barricades and control massive anti-government demonstrations, clashes broke out and at least 34 people were killed and over 100 injured. Twenty-three police officers were also injured”.

The report also refers to the documentation of violations by the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), according to which, between 16 September and 17 October, at least eight journalists were injured during protests. Finally, the report refers to the statement released by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in November 2019 that attributes at least 19 of the 42 deaths in protests since mid-September to government security forces.

Also in November 2019, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent an open letter the Haiti’s Minister of Justice and Public Security, asking him to guarantee the independent and comprehensive investigations into the reported cases of violence against journalists. According to the groups, there has been a significant increase in violence against Haitian journalists and media workers. “On multiple occasions, journalists covering breaking political news or protests have been shot at by protesters, security forces, and even elected officials”.

Freedom of expression and human rights organizations should continue to closely monitor the situation in Haiti in 2020. Due to the situation of congress, and its silence, the president will now govern by decree. And, as underscored by The Economist, “[f]or a country with a history of brutal dictatorship, coups and dodgy elections, the prospect of one-man rule is ominous”.

Killings of human rights defenders – urgent action is needed: Escazu Now!

In the last days of January, we were hit by the news that armed men attacked an indigenous community in Nicaragua, killing at least six people and kidnapping another 10. The attack took place within a protected nature reserve area. This is, unfortunately, just the most recent example of violence against environmental and human rights defenders in Latin America.

The 2019 Frontline Report released this January points to more than 300 human rights defenders killed in 2019 for protecting the environmental, free speech, LGBTQ+, and indigenous rights. Two-thirds of the total killings took place in Latin America; 40% of those killed worked on land rights, indigenous peoples rights, and environmental issues.

“This agreement is a major leap forward in the protection and safeguarding of human rights defenders in environmental matters.”

Despite the seriousness of the number of deaths escalating each year, in 2018 the region took an important step with the adoption of a ground-breaking regional agreement – the Escazu Accord, a regional agreement for Latin America and the Caribbean on Access to Information, Participation and Justice on Environmental Issues.

The Escazu Agreement is the first regional environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the second in the world to include provisions on the protection of environmental human rights defenders. It was approved after a negotiation that lasted about six years, and develops Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. One of the innovations in the agreement was its own negotiation process, which included members of the public in both the discussions and the drafting of the document.

To date, the agreement has 22 state signatures and 5 ratifications. It will come into force when it obtains 11 ratifications.

More than 20 UN experts (Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts) have called on countries to ratify the document. Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said: “This agreement is a major leap forward in the protection and safeguarding of human rights defenders in environmental matters. By establishing specific binding provisions, Latin American and Caribbean States are not only recognizing the acute and alarming situation faced by environmental defenders in countries of the region, but are also taking concrete steps to reaffirm their role and respect, protect and fulfil all their rights.”

2020 calls for renewed efforts to ensure that the agreement is put into action. Civil society groups, including IFEX-ALC members, have launched a campaign calling for Escazu Now! Each of us can push for its ratification and take part in this process. To learn how, visit the agreement’s info webpage: or search online for #EscazuAhora!

In brief

Defining the right to be forgotten

Organizations are calling on the government of Uruguay to remove article 214 on internet regulation from the Urgent Consideration Bill (Ley de Urgente Consideracion – LUC). Organizations were particularly concerned with the currently proposed language in letter G of article 214, which defines in a very vague and ample manner a “right to be forgotten”. Concerned groups point to the risks that such broad definitions may pose to freedom of expression and call for an immediate halt in the discussions of article 214. Given the importance and complexity of the issue, the groups are asking legislators to set up a process to discuss what is needed and to draft legislation, ensuring multistakeholder participation and a longer period for debate.

Criminalizing journalistic practices

Award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald has been accused of hacking the mobiles of Brazilian prosecutors and public officials in a criminal case launched on 21 January. Greenwald’s news organization The Intercept Brasil, which he co-founded in 2016, has published numerous reports featuring leaked messages that have affected the image of federal prosecutors, judges and the country’s most famous anti-corruption taskforce. Greenwald was accused of cybercrimes and of participating in a criminal organization that carried out the hacking.

Free expression and human rights groups have clarifed that the attacks on Greenwald and The Intercept Brasil are actually much broader, and have been going on for a while now; they include specific death threats, public disinformation, and a criminal prosecution. Local groups have affirmed that these attacks are part of an attempt to intimidate the press in general.

On 24 January, IFEX members wrote an open letter to Brazilian authorities affirming that “The charges represent a straightforward attempt to intimidate and retaliate against Greenwald and The Intercept Brasil for their critical reporting on messages that appeared to show a judge advising federal prosecutors how to prosecute cases. Further, the government has essentially criminalized engaging in legitimate journalistic practices”.

Confusion and censorship during Venezuela’s National Assembly session

The National Assembly of Venezuela was supposed to carry out a session on 5 January in which a new directing body would be elected. It was expected that, under this new governance, the legislature would confirm Juan Guaido as president. However, the session was convoluted and marked by blockades, censorship, violence against the press, and internet cuts. Guaido and members of the opposition, as well as much of the press, were not allowed in.

According to media sources, a member of Mr. Maduro’s party, Héctor Agüero, swore in the legislator Luis Parra as head of the assembly. There was no vote count.

Venezuelan IFEX member Espacio Publico collected information about the restrictions imposed on freedom of expression that day:

  • The platforms YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were blocked by the state internet provider, Compañía Anónima Nacional Teléfonos de Venezuela (Cantv), from 9:00 am until after 11:30;
  • More than 300 press representatives and 60 media outlets had been accredited days ago to cover the session; on 5 January, however, all press members were blocked from entering and subject to register again, in a new list organized by the Ministry for Communications and the National Bolivarian Guard. After registering, only 60 journalists and 30 outlets were re-accredited and let in.
  • Teams that stayed outside covering the opposition attempts to enter the National Assembly reported intimidation from security forces.
  • Even later that day, some media outlets reported that non-uniformed members of security forces were placed in front of their headquarters.

The National Assembly has invited the IACHR to visit the country and the Commission has confirmed the visit for 3 -7 February 2020. However, days before the visit, the Ministry for Foreign Relations afrimed that Venezuela is no longer a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) and that the IACHR visit is not authorized by the government.

If you enjoyed this, check out all the January regional roundups!


document.write(”);Survey software you’ll love to use Please take my survey now

.sg-survey{display:none; }

The post Chile cries out for reforms, unrest in Haiti, and a regional plan to protect environmental rights defenders appeared first on IFEX.


Related Posts