There were demonstrations, at times violent, throughout the year, on issues including education, Indigenous Peoples’ rights and rising living costs.
A bill to bring domestic legislation into line with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was before Congress at the end of the year.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty visited prisons in Chile in August. The Rapporteur found some good practices, but condemned excessive use of force in punishment, an unprecedented level of overcrowding in state-run prisons and inadequate provision of basic services in juvenile detention centres.
On 15 September, Chile ratified International Labour Organization Convention 169 on Indigenous Peoples’ rights after withdrawing a controversial interpretative declaration.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Tensions between Indigenous Peoples – particularly the Mapuche – and the authorities remained high. The expansion of extractive and forestry industries continued and the resolution of land claims was slow. There were continuing allegations of human rights violations. In April, the government launched a policy framework for Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
- On 3 January, Matías Valentín Catrileo Quezada, a 23-year-old Mapuche student, died after being shot during a protest over land rights in Vilcún commune, Araucanía region. After initial inconsistencies in the autopsy and forensic investigations, it was confirmed that he had been shot in the back. A member of the Special Police Force (Fuerzas especiales de carabineros) was accused of the shooting and was on bail at the end of the year awaiting trial on charges of “unnecessary violence causing death”.
- In November, a regional prosecutor in Temuco charged three students linked to the Mapuche cause, one of whom was 16 years old, under an anti-terrorism law dating from the military government of Augusto Pinochet. The charge related to their alleged involvement in a Molotov bomb (home-made incendiary) attack on police. The government had given repeated assurances that it did not support the application of anti-terrorist legislation in cases involving Indigenous protests.
Justice and impunity
According to official figures, 1,125 cases of human rights violations committed during the military government of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) remained open; 3,195 had been subject to investigation. By the end of 2008, 245 members of the security forces had been convicted in connection with 115 cases.
There were important verdicts and developments in several high-profile cases.
- In March, 24 retired senior military police officers were convicted of the kidnapping, murder and torture of 31 people in Osorno in October and November 1973. Sentences ranged from four years’ imprisonment to life.
- In June, Manuel Contreras, the former head of the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA) was found guilty of the 1974 car bomb killings of former army Commander-in- Chief Carlos Prats González and his wife in Argentina. The judge added two life sentences plus 20 years to the time Manuel Contreras was already serving in prison. Seven other former DINA agents and two civilians received sentences of up to 20 years’ imprisonment.
- In October, retired General Arellano Stark was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for his role in the killings of four political prisoners in 1973 as head of the Caravan of Death. Four other officers were given sentences of between four and six years. This was the first conviction in relation to the 72 killings carried out by the Caravan of Death in the north of Chile. In November it was confirmed that Arellano Stark would not be imprisoned for health reasons.
- Nineteen navy officials, some still on active service, were charged in connection with the kidnapping of the priest MiguelWoodward. All were granted bail. Investigations confirmed that MiguelWoodward died under torture in 1973 and had been detained on the Navy ship Esmeralda, which remained in service as part of the Navy’s fleet. The judge presiding over the case was threatened and witnesses were harassed as they entered the court.
- In July, the former Temuco military prosecutor, Alfonso Podlech, was detained in Spain. An international arrest warrant had been issued in connection with his role in the disappearance of four Italian-Chilean citizens, including the priest Omar Venturelli in 1973. Alfonso Podlech was later extradited to Italy where he remained in preventive detention at the end of the year.
"Tensions between Indigenous Peoples – particularly the Mapuche – and the authorities remained high."
Police and security forces
Police were accused of ill-treating detainees and of using excessive force against demonstrators.
- During a protest on 21 May in Valparaíso, an officer on horseback struck Victor Salas, a photographer, in the face with a metal baton. As a result Victor Salas suffered a severe loss of vision with long-term consequences. An internal inquiry failed to identify the perpetrator and subsequent investigations were not conclusive.
Amnesty International visit
In November, Amnesty International’s Secretary General visited Chile and met President Bachelet and other senior government officials.
Amnesty International reports
Chile: Memorandum to the Chilean Government (7 November 2008)
Chile: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Fifth session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, May 2009 (10 November 2008)