WORLD REPORT 1997 - Chile

Human Rights Developments

Chile made slow progress in promoting human rights reforms, due to continuing opposition from the military and political right and the failure of the government of President Eduardo Frei to press for advances. Human rights violations from the past remained an openly debated and tense issue, as the Supreme Court and military appeals court continued to close unresolved Adisappearance@ cases, applying an amnesty law enacted by the military government that left power in 1990. Authorities downplayed abuses by the Carabineros police, including torture, while civilian and military officials used the courts to try to silence their critics.

The National Corporation of Reparation and Reconciliation (Corporación Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación, CNRR), a government body set up in 1991 to continue investigating human rights violations that occurred during the military government, delivered its final report in August. Its investigations confirmed 899 more deaths and Adisappearances@ than had been documented by its predecessor, the Rettig Commission, bringing the total number of victims of such crimes during the seventeen-year period to 3,197.

Debate continued on the future of court investigations into such cases. Political negotiations on the so-called Figueroa-Otero proposals broke down in April. The bill, named for Minister of the Interior Carlos Figueroa and opposition leader Miguel Otero, was the latest in a series of unsuccessful government proposals aimed at ending court investigations into human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship. In exchange for curbing court actions, a concession to the military, the government had proposed several reforms to democratize Chile=s 1980 Constitution, crafted by the military government. However, right-wing opposition leaders refused to accept the reforms, while left-wing members of the government coalition rejected legitimizing the amnesty law. Tensions surrounding the issue remained unresolved.

Regardless of the proposed Figueroa-Otero bill, the Supreme Court continued to apply Chile=s amnesty law. During the first half of the year it closed six cases of Adisappearances@ and extrajudicial executions, involving twelve victims; the Martial Court, or military appeals court, amnestied eleven cases, involving sixteen victims. Human Rights Watch/Americas met with the president of the Supreme Court to press for stronger human rights action on such cases.

The Supreme Court continued to close human rights cases in the second half of the year. For example, in August, the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court did so in a case involving the torture and murder in 1976 of Spanish United Nations official Carmelo Soria, and gave amnesty to two army officers implicated, Guillermo Salinas Torres and José Ríos San Martín. The case had been reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court in 1994 on the grounds that the amnesty was inapplicable due to Chile=s obligations under an international convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against diplomats. In June 1996, the investigating judge, Eliodoro Ortiz, declared the amnesty applicable, arguing that Soria did not have diplomatic status and that the treaty in question had been misinterpreted. The Supreme Court, despite its earlier verdict, ruled unanimously in support of this view. A group of parliamentarians tabled an unsuccessful impeachment motion against the judges who made the decision.

The Supreme Court also closed the case of Lumi Videla, who was detained by agents belonging to the secret police known as the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA) in September 1974 and held for several weeks in a secret detention center in Santiago. Her body was later thrown onto the grounds of the Italian Embassy.

While the Chilean courts tended to close human rights cases, Argentine police arrested Enrique Arancibia Clavel, a former DINA agent, in Buenos Aires, in January. The arrest followed the issuance of an arrest warrant by a federal judge, María Servini de Cubria, for the car-bomb attack that killed former Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief Carlos Prats González, then in exile in Buenos Aires, and his wife Sofía, in September 1974. In a positive move, the Chilean government appointed a lawyer to represent it in the Argentine case.

An Uruguayan judge, Aída Vera Barreto, identified a body recovered from a shallow grave on an Uruguayan beach in April 1995 as that of Enrique Berríos, a former DINA chemical weapons expert and an associate of Michael Townley, the former DINA agent convicted in the United States for the murder of former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier. Berríos had fled Chile in 1991 after being called as a witness in the Letelier case. His whereabouts were unknown until he turned up at a police station in Parque de Plata, Uruguay, in November 1992, and pleaded for assistance, claiming that he had been kidnapped. The police officer in charge offered to help but then returned him to his captors, members of Uruguayan military intelligence, at the insistence of senior Uruguayan military officers.

Abuses by the police, in particular by Carabineros, the uniformed branch, remained an issue of concern. In January, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel. S. Rodley concluded in his report on Chile that cases of torture were Asufficiently numerous and serious for the authorities to continue giving attention to the problem, and to translate official rejection of the practice into specific measures. The rapporteur had transmitted to the government 110 allegations since 1990, and concluded that ill-treatment of detainees bordering on torture was Avery extensive.@ Government officials took issue with the report, including Secretary General of Government José Joaquín Brunner, who said that torture cases were Aisolated.@

Much-needed and far-reaching reforms to the Criminal Procedures Code, presented to Congress by the Ministry of Justice in 1995, were still under debate. The reforms would provide protections for detainees= rights.

Government, military, and police authorities continued to file defamation lawsuits against their critics, using the Law of State Security and the military penal code. In December 1995, Judge Rafael Huerta sentenced political analyst and former Pinochet minister Francisco Javier Cuadra to a suspended sentence of 540 days in prison and a fine of 100,000 pesos (approximately US$242) for a comment he made in a magazine interview alleging that some parliamentarians used cocaine. The Supreme Court upheld the decision after an appeals court ruled in favor of Cuadra. Human Rights Watch/Americas and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) brought this case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October, accusing Chile of violating free expression guarantees.

In May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found Chile to be in breach of the freedom of expression provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights by banning circulation and distribution in Chile of Impunidad Diplomática, a book by Chilean journalist Francisco Martorell, released by Planeta editors in Argentina. Martorell was given a 541-day suspended sentence for libel in September 1995. The commission called on Chile to lift the ban, which amounted to prior censorship, and allow Martorell to return to Chile to promote his book; he was not permitted to promote the volume. Human Rights Watch/Americas and CEJIL litigated on Martorell=s behalf.

On October 29, police arrested Gladys Marín, who was accused of defaming General Pinochet. The president of the Communist Party, Marín had called Pinochet a Ablackmailer@ during a speech marking the anniversary of the 1973 military coup. Others sued for defamation during the year included Socialist Youth leader Arturo Barrios, charged with insulting Gen. Augusto Pinochet at a June 1995 ceremony in memory of Adisappeared@ Socialist leader Carlos Lorca; Nolberto Díaz, president of the Christian Democrat Youth, for comments on a radio show attacking conscription laws; Tomás Hirsch, president of the Humanist Party, for accusing a prison medical team of using unclean hyperdermic needles during a prison HIV test; Manuel Cabieses, director of the left-wing newspaper Punto Final, accused of sedition for a front-page image of Pinochet; and Eduardo Maneses, lead singer of the rap group Black Panthers (Panteras Negras), for insulting the police in the lyrics of its song AWar on the Streets.@

The Right to Monitor

We did not receive any reports that the government prevented or restricted human rights organizations from conducting their investigations and reporting their findings during 1996.

The Role of the International Community

European Union

In July, the European Union (E.U.) signed a cooperation agreement with Chile pursuing enhanced economic, financial, and technical cooperation, and enabling Chile to become involved in trade talks between the E.U. and Mercosur. ARespect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights@ constitutes an essential element of the agreement. In June, prior to the signing of the agreement, the European Parliament passed a resolution deploring the Supreme Court decision in the Carmelo Soria case.

United States

Human rights remained a low priority in U.S relations with Chile, and the Clinton administration made no public interventions on human right issues during the year.

In July, U.S. Amb. Gabriel Guerra-Mondragon provoked a stern reaction from the Chilean government when he pointed outCcorrectlyCin an embassy press briefing that the military was not fully subordinated to the civilian power. The ambassador=s comments came in the midst of rumors, sparked by an article in the New York Times, that the Clinton administration was debating allowing sales of high-technology military equipment, such as F-16 fighter planes, to countries in the region. Chilean Minister of Defense Edmundo Pérez Yoma retorted that Guerra-Mondragon was Avery wrong@ in his comments about civil-military relations, and that the armed forces were constitutionally subject to the elected government. The U.S Embassy issued a clarification, stating that the ambassador=s remarks had been taken out of context and saying that the State Department=s annual human rights report noted that Chile=s armed forces were subordinated to the president but enjoyed a Alarge degree of autonomy.@