Amnesty International, Regional overview of the Americas last year

Police and protesters clash this past December in Lima, Peru. Voice of America photo.

Americas: Double standards and inadequate responses have undermined human rights

by Amnesty International

Amnesty International Report 2022/23: The State of the World’s Human Rights found that double standards and inadequate responses to human rights abuses taking place around the world fueled impunity and instability.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created 75 years ago, out of the ashes of the Second World War. At its core is the universal recognition that all people have rights and fundamental freedoms. While global power dynamics are in chaos, human rights cannot be lost in the fray. They should guide the world as it navigates an increasingly volatile and dangerous environment. We must not wait for the world to burn again,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

In the Americas, states across the continent have failed their populations throughout the last year by making empty promises, applying double standards and failing to uphold their international human rights obligations, Amnesty International said today upon launching its annual report in the region.

Despite promising prosperity, security, social progress and environmental protection, governments in the Americas have turned their backs on women, refugees and other historically marginalized groups, while failing to adequately address the climate crisis and viciously repressing those who dare raise their voice against injustice and inequality. It is time for states to assume their responsibility for human rights and put an end to the injustices ravaging the region,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Ruthless repression of dissent

In response to growing threats to the right to protest, Amnesty International launched a global campaign in 2022 to confront states’ intensifying efforts to erode the fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Across the Americas millions of people, alongside social movements and activists, took to the streets to demand basic economic and social rights, an end to gender-based violence, the release of those unjustly detained and to defend the environment. Authorities in many countries responded by violating people’s rights to life, liberty, fair trial and physical integrity.

Excessive use of force and unlawful killings by security forces were widespread throughout the region, often targeting low-income and racialized neighbourhoods. In Brazil, 84% of all people killed by police were Black, including 23 people killed in a raid in Rio de Janeiro in May. In the USA, more than 75 people were arrested in connection with protests after police shot Jayland Walker, a Black man, 46 times in Akron, Ohio, in June.

In Venezuela, according to the human rights organization COFAVIC, security forces carried out 488 alleged extrajudicial executions between January and September. Reports by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela highlighted the manipulation of the judicial system to shield police and military officers responsible for previous violations from justice and identified chains of command that linked suspected perpetrators to Nicolás Maduro’s government. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Venezuela, the first such investigation in the region.

In Peru, security forces used excessive and lethal force with racist bias against Indigenous people and campesinos to quell protests during the political crisis since the ousting of then-president Pedro Castillo in December. At least 49 people have died from state repression, 11 due to road blockades, and one policeman and six soldiers have been killed, while hundreds have been injured since the crisis began.

Arbitrary detentions remained widespread across the region. Those held were often tortured or otherwise ill-treated and, in some cases, forcibly disappeared. Last March, authorities in El Salvador declared a state of emergency in response to a spike in homicides, allegedly committed by gangs. The measure has resulted in massive human rights violations, more than 65,000 arrests and widespread unfair trials.

In Nicaragua, as of last December authorities had revoked the legal status of at least 3,144 organizations, closed at least 12 universities, jailed journalists and harassed political activists and opponents. In February 2023, the government forcibly exiled 222 people, and stripped more than 300 of their nationality, including prominent human rights defenders, writers and journalists.

The defense of human rights remains a perilous pursuit across the region, with at least 189 social leaders and human rights defenders killed in Colombia alone last year. In Venezuela, there were at least 396 attacks against human rights defenders, including intimidation, stigmatization and threats last year, while in Guatemala, judges, prosecutors, human rights defenders and protesters faced unfounded criminal proceedings. Press freedom remained at risk as Mexico recorded its deadliest ever year for the press with at least 13 murders, while journalists were also killed in Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela.

Shameless double standards fuel abuses against refugees

Human rights and humanitarian crises throughout the Americas led to sharp increases in the numbers of people leaving their country in search of protection. At least 7.17 million Venezuelans have now left their country, while the number of people leaving Cuba and Haiti has also increased significantly, adding to a steady number of people fleeing Central America. UNICEF recorded 5,000 children crossing the perilous Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama in the first half of 2022, twice the number from the same period in 2021.

Yet US federal courts upheld the Migrant Protection Protocols and Title 42 of the US Code, resulting in irreparable harm to tens of thousands of asylum seekers who were expelled to danger in Mexico. Meanwhile, Mexican authorities continued to collaborate with US authorities to stop others seeking safety in the United States, detaining at least 281,149 people in overcrowded immigration detention centers and deporting at least 98,299 people, mostly from Central America, including thousands of unaccompanied children.

The USA has been a vocal critic of Russian human rights violations in Ukraine has admitted tens of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the war, yet under policies and practices rooted in anti-Black racism, it expelled more than 25,000 Haitians between September 2021 and May 2022, subjecting many to arbitrary detention and discriminatory and humiliating treatment that amounted to race-based torture.

Women and LGBTQI+ people bear brunt as states fail to protect their rights

Women’s rights were under fire, as authorities in several countries took actions that seriously jeopardized sexual and reproductive rights. The US Supreme Court overturned a long-standing constitutional guarantee of right to abortion, threatening other human rights, including the rights to life, health, privacy, security and non-discrimination for millions of women, girls, and people who can become pregnant. By the end of 2022, several US states had passed laws to ban or curtail access to abortion.

El Salvador’s total ban on abortion remained in force, with at least two women still imprisoned on charges related to obstetric emergencies, including one serving a maximum 50-year sentence. In the Dominican Republic, Congress again failed to table a revised Criminal Code that decriminalizes abortion.

Authorities failed to protect women and girls from entrenched gender-based violence or to address impunity for these crimes. Indigenous women continued to face disproportionately high levels of rape and other sexual violence in the USA, while hundreds of femicides were recorded in countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela. Mexico’s government continued to stigmatize feminists who protested against government inaction on gender-based violence and, in some states, security forces violently beat and arbitrarily detained demonstrators.

States’ hunger to control the bodies of women and girls, their sexuality and their lives leaves a terrible legacy of violence, oppression and stunted potential,” said Agnès Callamard.

Nonetheless, some advances were made on sexual and reproductive rights, as well as LGBTI people’s rights. In Colombia, the persistence of women’s rights activism and sophisticated legal action contributed to the Constitutional Court’s decision to decriminalize abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The same court also recognized a non-binary gender marker for ID registration, establishing legal precedent for gender diversity in Colombia. Meanwhile, following a referendum, Cuba approved a new Family Code legalizing same-sex marriage and allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

However, LGBTI people continued to be at risk of killings, attacks, discrimination and threats and faced obstacles to legal recognition in several countries. Transgender people were at particular risk of killings in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Brazil remained the world’s deadliest country for transgender people, despite two transgender women winning election to the federal congress for the first time in the nation’s history.

Regional action against threats to humanity woefully inadequate

The Americas continued to suffer the fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic, while climate change and economic instability compounded the risks to human rights. Authorities across the region failed to guarantee millions of people’s access to basic rights to food, water and health and healthcare systems remained critically underfunded. Inflation compounded economic hardship, while the number of people living in poverty remained above pre-pandemic levels.

Most people in Venezuela experienced food insecurity and by August the country had the world’s third highest inflation rate for food prices. Food shortages in Cuba forced people to queue for hours for basic goods, while more that 40% of Haiti’s population faced crisis or emergency hunger levels, amid a re-emergence of cholera. More than half Brazil’s population also lacked adequate and secure access to food.

Most countries failed to strengthen protections to the right to health, despite the pandemic demonstrating that health systems needed major reform. In Chile a large majority of citizens rejected a proposal for a new constitution that would have strengthened protections for economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

Against this backdrop, countries failed to act in the best interests of humanity and address fossil fuel dependency, the main driver behind the climate crisis that threatens life as we know it. Despite their rhetoric in support of global emissions reductions, many governments did not match these words with actions.

Although the US Congress passed the first package of climate change legislation in US history, it also reinstated old auctions of oil and gas leases on federal land and the Gulf of Mexico, which the Biden administration had tried to cancel, and forced the administration to hold several new auctions. Meanwhile, Canada’s Export Development agency had pumped $2.5 billion into the oil and gas sector midway through the year, even as Canada launched a plan to phase out public financing for new fossil fuel projects.

Elsewhere, Brazil submitted a national climate mitigation plan insufficient in relation to the country’s contribution to climate change. However, after winning Brazil’s presidential election, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced he would promote the protection of the country’s biomes with special emphasis on the Amazon, an area that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have declared highly vulnerable to drought and high temperatures.

In Guatemala the Indigenous Mayan environmentalist Bernardo Caal Xol was released on parole after spending four years in jail on bogus charges. However, environmental activists and Indigenous peoples continue to face attacks for trying to address the climate crisis, with killings recorded in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

Despite the grave challenges facing us, people across the Americas have shown time and again that they have the power to affect change in the region. From the Indigenous activists leading the defense of our planet to the brave people opposing racial injustice, and the women and girls standing up to reclaim control of their bodies, new generations of human rights defenders keep emerging to hold our governments to account,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Facts and figures: Human rights in the Americas in 2022-23

  • An estimated 201 million people were living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022, equivalent to 32.1% of the region’s population. This represents a 25-year setback, with an additional 15 million people living in poverty since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and an additional 12 million living in extreme poverty since 2019.

  • The Americas remains the region with most fatalities from COVID, with more than 2.9 million confirmed deaths.

  • The United States had more than 102 million confirmed cases and 1,111,000 deaths from COVID as of 14 March 2023, more than any other country on earth. Brazil had the world’s second highest death toll, with more than 699,000 fatalities.

  • Peru still has the highest fatality rate in the world from COVID, with 6,481 confirmed deaths per million inhabitants.

  • Authorities in El Salvador have detained more than 65,000 people since declaring a state of emergency in March 2022. With nearly 2% of the adult population behind bars, El Salvador has the world’s highest incarceration rate.

  • As of last December, Nicaraguan authorities had revoked the legal status of at least 3,144 organizations and closed at least 12 universities. In February 2023 the government forcibly exiled 222 people, and stripped more than 300 of their nationality, including prominent human rights defenders, writers and journalists.

  • At least 67 people have died since widespread protests began across Peru in December, including at least 49 deaths from state repression.

  • Mexico suffered its deadliest ever year for journalists, with CPJ recording at least 13 killings. Only Ukraine recorded more killings of journalists (15) in 2022, while Haiti was the next deadliest country with seven killings.

  • Turks and Caicos Islands recorded the highest murder rate in Latin America and the Caribbean last year (77.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants), followed by Jamaica (52.9), St. Lucia (42.3) and Venezuela (40.4).

  • The Americas accounted for 273 of 327 trans and gender-diverse people reported murdered worldwide between 1 October 2021 and 30 September 2022. Brazil recorded more killings (96) than any other country on earth, followed by Mexico (56), the United States (51) and Colombia (28).

  • Mexico recorded 3,754 killings of women in 2022, of which 947 were investigated as feminicides.

  • The number of people officially missing in Mexico surpassed 100,000 last year. As of 13 March 2023, the total stood at over 112,000.

  • The US Supreme Court overturned a long-standing constitutional guarantee of abortion access last June, threatening critical rights, including the right to life, security and non-discrimination for millions of women, girls, and others. By the end of 2022, several US states had passed laws to ban or curtail access to abortion.

  • US federal courts upheld the Migrant Protection Protocols and Title 42 of the US Code in 2022, resulting in irreparable harm to tens of thousands of asylum seekers who were expelled to danger in Mexico.

  • Between September 2021 and May 2022, the USA expelled more than 25,000 Haitians without due process, in violation of national and international law.

  • Mexican authorities detained at least 281,149 people in overcrowded immigration detention centers last year, and deported at least 98,299 people, mostly from Central America, including thousands of unaccompanied children.

  • More than 7.17 million Venezuelans have left the country, mostly since 2015. Of these, over 6 million are living in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • The number of migrant children crossing the dangerous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama on foot hit an all-time high, with UNICEF counting 32,488 children from January to October.

  • Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon totaled more than 11,500 km² in the first 11 months of 2022, the second highest figure since 2006.


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