Factsheet: Major human rights events in the Americas 2019
Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 2019 in 24 countries across the Americas. Examples of the major human rights events analyzed include:
After Evo Morales’ resignation amidst a social-political crisis in November, interim president Jeanine Áñez issued a decree granting impunity to Armed Forces, under which security forces repressed protests, causing deaths, dozens of injuries and allegations of excessive use of force. At least 35 people died violently in the context of the protests.
President Bolsonaro’s government put his openly anti-human rights rhetoric into practice through administrative and legislative measures. The year also saw an increase in the number of killings by police on active duty; severe environmental crises in the Amazon disproportionately affecting Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas and other local traditional communities; attempts to curtail the activities of civil society organizations; and threats against and killings of human rights defenders.
Chile ended 2019 with the worst human rights crisis since the regime of General Augusto Pinochet, with mass demonstrations against high levels of inequality. At least 31 people died violently in the context of the protests, which were met with strong repression by state forces.
Violence from the ongoing internal armed conflict and disputes over territorial control following the signing of the 2016 Peace Agreement raged on. The main victims continued to be Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant and campesino (peasant farmer) communities. Colombia was the world’s most lethal country for human rights defenders, with 106 killings.
A year after President Díaz-Canel took office, the Cuban authorities continued to arbitrarily detain and imprison independent artists and journalists, and members of the political opposition. Amnesty International named six people prisoners of conscience, representing only a fraction of those likely to be detained solely because of the peaceful expression of their opinions or beliefs. The island remained mostly closed to independent human rights monitors.
The police routinely raped, beat and humiliated women engaged in sex work in acts that may amount to gender-based torture or other ill-treatment. Abortion remained criminalized in all circumstances.
Authorities failed to protect human rights defenders in situations of risk, especially those who defend the environment, as well as making xenophobic statements and hardening entry requirements for Venezuelan asylum-seekers. Security forces used excessive force to repress protests over austerity measures that may affect people’s rights. Eight people died in the context of the protests in October and hundreds were injured and detained.
High levels of violence continued to provoke internal displacement and forced migration. Local organizations reported concerns over the new government’s plan against organized crime, such as the lack of transparency, the use of the military in public security operations, and the plan’s impact on prison conditions. A draconian total ban on abortion continued in place.
The government shut down the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, and Congress discussed regressive bills promoting impunity and restrictions to the work of human rights defenders. Attacks against human rights defenders persisted, including smear campaigns, criminalization and killings. Under a new “Safe Third Country” agreement, US authorities sent Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to pursue their asylum claims in Guatemala instead of in the United States.
At least 83 people were killed and over 100 injured in the context of protests during in February and September-October. Security forces were responsible for an estimated 19 of those deaths. Amnesty International verified instances in which police armed with semi-automatic rifles fired live ammunition during protests, in violation of international policing and human rights standards. A number of journalists were injured and killed.
Six people died in the context of protests that were brutally repressed by security forces between April and June. Human rights defenders continued to be subjected to attacks, including killings and the misuse of criminal proceedings against them. Despite thousands of people fleeing the country seeking refuge in the United States and Mexico due to violence, impunity and poverty, the governments of Honduras and the United States signed a “Safe Third Country” agreement.
The first year under a new administration brought concerning decisions around security, including the creation of a civil National Guard formed mostly by military elements. The number of reported disappearances increased to over 61,637. Violence against women persisted, with 1,006 investigations opened into femicides. Harassment and killings of human rights defenders and journalists continued. Mexico adopted a security-based approach to migration issues, using the National Guard to apprehend migrants.
The crisis in Nicaragua continued, with arbitrary detentions, targeted killings, limits to freedom of expression and demonstrations and attacks against NGOs, journalists and human rights defenders. Thousands were forced to flee the country and the authorities blocked the entrance of international bodies.
Authorities made xenophobic statements and imposed stricter entry requirements on Venezuelan asylum-seekers. The government also failed to address the exposure of Indigenous communities to toxic metals and the lack of effective regulations affected Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
Ricardo Rosselló resigned as governor in July, following two weeks of protests in which 20 people were injured and 17 arrested. Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a State of National Alert due to high levels of gender-based violence. Two years after hurricane Maria, tens of thousands of people continued to live under blue tarpaulin sheets.
US authorities detained, ill-treated and turned away tens of thousands of asylum-seekers at the US-Mexico border, in violation of national and international laws. As a result, unaccompanied children, families, LGBTI people and others faced abuses once stranded in northern Mexico, as well as in US immigration detention centers. The Trump administration increasingly misused the criminal justice system to threaten and harass human rights defenders.
The Maduro government continued its use of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and torture as part of a policy of repression to silence dissent. At least 47 people were killed in the context of protests, including 21 who died in January at the hands of security forces and armed civilians acting with their acquiescence, in what may constitute crimes against humanity. Lack of food, medical care, and basic services have forced more than 4.8 million people to flee the country.