Chile crisis report describes multiple human rights violations by police and army

By agency reporter
December 14, 2019

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report on Chile published on 13 December 2019, says that during the recent mass protests and state of emergency the police and army failed to adhere to international human rights norms and standards relating to management of assemblies and the use of force.

The 30-page report was produced by a UN Human Rights Office team which spent the first three weeks of November researching the situation across seven regions of Chile. It details extensive allegations – including specific examples -- of torture, ill-treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence by the police against people held in detention, many of whom appear to have been detained arbitrarily. In all, according to official figures, more than 28,000 people were detained between 18 October and 6 December, although the great majority have been released.

The team met with, and received extensive cooperation from, a wide number of local and national authorities. It also received significant assistance from the National Human Rights Institute and the Office of the Children's Ombudsperson, and met with over 300 members of civil society.

The team carried out 235 interviews with victims of alleged human rights violations – including injured and detained protestors and their family members -- and conducted 60 interviews with police officers, including some of those injured during the protests. It was granted free access to hospitals and health centres, to interview people injured during the demonstrations. It was also given rapid and unhindered access to places of detention, including police stations and prisons, as well as to people deprived of liberty whom it wished to interview in private, and to relevant reports and records.

The report says that information gathered from a variety of sources indicates "the police has regularly failed to distinguish between people demonstrating peacefully and violent protesters."

During its mission, the team documented 113 specific cases of torture and ill-treatment, and 24 cases of sexual violence against women, men and adolescent girls and boys, perpetrated by members of the police and army. It notes that the National Human Rights Institution has filed criminal complaints relating to hundreds more such cases.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor has indicated there are ongoing investigations into 26 deaths that occurred in the context of the protests, and the UN Human Rights Office says it has verified information concerning 11 of those 26 cases. Of these, the report says, four cases involved "arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful deaths involving State agents." In two of these cases, it says, "lethal force, in the form of live ammunition, appears to have been used in the absence of any risk to the lives of civilian or military personnel and against people who were not participating in acts of violence. This contravenes international norms and standards on the use of force and may, depending on the circumstances, amount to an extrajudicial execution."

The report cites the Ministry of Justice figure of 4,903 people injured up to 10 December, including 2,792 police officers, but notes other sources suggest higher numbers of injured. It states that there had been "unnecessary and disproportionate use of less-lethal weapons, in particular anti-riot shotguns, during peaceful demonstrations and/or outside the context of violent confrontations between demonstrators and security forces. This has resulted in a high number of people being injured, including passers-by and people who were not committing violent acts but just protesting peacefully."

"The alarmingly high number of persons with injuries to their eyes or faces (approximately 350) provides a strong basis to believe that 'less-lethal weapons' have been used improperly and indiscriminately, against international principles on minimising the risk of injury," the report says. It notes that while eye injuries mainly resulted from shotgun pellets, some cases were "due to the use of chemical irritants, in particular tear gas and, in some instances, from impacts from tear gas canisters."

The report states that the authorities "had information regarding the extent of the injuries as early as 22 October. However, those responsible failed to adopt effective, prompt and timely measures to end the use of less-lethal weapons, especially anti-riot shotguns using pellets. Prompt action by the relevant authorities could have prevented other people suffering serious injuries." However, the report also notes recent decisions by various courts of appeal around the country which have limited the use of shotguns in peaceful demonstrations, and have also limited or prohibited the use of tear gas in certain circumstances or places (for example, in hospitals).

Among a number of recommendations to the Chilean State, the report recommends it "immediately end the indiscriminate use of anti-riot shotguns to control demonstrations." It also calls for tear gas only to be used "when strictly necessary and never inside education and health establishments," adding that police officers should receive clear instructions on the  proper use of tear gas, including by ensuring that tear gas canisters "are always fired at a high angle and never horizontally, according to international standards."

The report notes how "different State institutions have taken measures to ensure investigations of alleged human rights violations; to ensure prompt access to lawyers for detainees; access to services for victims; and to provide comprehensive, regular and accessible information to the public. Rulings have been issued by tribunals to protect those persons exercising their rights, including to peaceful assembly." The National Human Rights Institution and the Ombudsperson for Children's Rights, in particular, "have effectively and in a timely manner carried out their mandate to protect human rights." 

The report notes in its conclusions that the demonstrations that have taken place in Chile "have multiple root causes, including social and economic inequality. It says that "the majority of those who have exercised the right to assembly during this period, have done so in a peaceful manner. However, there have been numerous attacks against security forces and their premises. Both during and outside of demonstrations, there was also significant looting and destruction of property."

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that, from 18 October onwards, a high number of serious human rights violations have been committed", it states. "These violations include excessive or unnecessary use of force that led to unlawful killings and injuries, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, and arbitrary detentions."

"The management of assemblies by the police has been carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner," the report says, adding that "certain human rights violations, in particular the improper use of less lethal weapons and cases of ill treatment, are recurrent over time and space."

In its report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recommends a number of specific measures to rectify police practices, and calls on the Government to "ensure that security forces adopt measures to guarantee accountability for human rights violations, and duly recognise such violations."

"Recognising and learning from what happened, we should look forward in a constructive way", said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. "The report recommends a follow-up mechanism, involving our Santiago-based Regional Office for South America, as well as the active participation of civil society, to evaluate within three months the implementation of the recommendations made in this report, as well as the recommendations from international human rights mechanisms.

"This follow-up mechanism should aim to establish measures to prevent the recurrence of the sad and troubling events that have engulfed Chile over the past two months – especially as protests are continuing in different parts of the country, albeit with less intensity, and we continue to receive allegations of human rights violations. The results of the work of such a mechanism should be made public."

* Read the full report of the mission to Chile here

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx

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