Chile was under an oppressive, military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. Gen. Augusto Pinochet ruled the country and used the failings of the last presidency as a justification for the regime. The dictatorship was characterized by the “disappearances” of thousands of suspected leftists in the earliest months of the regime.
Chilean courts are still prosecuting people for their abuses during the military rule. Many of the perpetrators of human rights offenses have faced reduced sentences. This has resulted in miniscule punishments in comparison to the crimes. Chile is still recovering from its period of military rule.
However, the Chilean people are demanding a change. As a result, legislation is reflecting the demands of its people.
Facts About Human Rights in Chile
- The government of Chile has been attempting to rectify past human rights violations from the time of the military period. In December 2015, the Ministry of the Interior’s human rights program announced that justice authorities are investigating 1,048 cases of human rights violations from the military period.
- Chilean prisons are filled past capacity. These institutions were functioning at a capacity of 103.2 percent in August of 2016. In some regions, prison capacity was exceeded by 200 percent. In October of that same year, the Santiago Sur Preventive Prison Center reached the volume of 5,057 prisoners, contrary to its maximum capacity of 2,384 inmates. In a 2017 report by the U.S. government, it was noted that the government was working toward a long-term effort to ameliorate this issue.
- Living conditions for children under the state are seeing improvement. The National Service for Minors (SENAME) has been under extreme scrutiny after the death of 34 children between January to June of 2016. In 2017, 171 SENAME centers were investigated. Out of 405 children questioned, 197 recounted their abuses. The government responded to the investigation by accelerating the processing of bills to improve the structure of the institution.
- Indigenous people still face discrimination. Throughout Chilean history, the Mapuche people have been discriminated against. President Bachelet has publically apologized for the affronts to the Mapuche by the government. Poverty levels have declined and government scholarships are increasing the Mapuche education rates. Furthermore, the government has offered land transfers and increased social spending on this historically mistreated group.
- There are still reports of the government using excessive force, especially on indigenous groups. Although the government has developed new ways to investigate and punish police corruption, excessive force and human rights offenses are still being done by the national police force (Carabineros de Chile). Lack of repatriation of ancestral land for the Mapuche people has resulted in years of violent protest. Mapuche activists have led numerous arson attacks as well as protests, targeting churches and logging equipment. The Carabineros as well as security forces have sometimes violently raided southern Chile. As a result, Mapuche arson leaders have been arrested.
- In November 2016, President Bachelet signed a bill into law that would change Chile’s criminal code. This bill modernized the nation’s criminal code to obey international standards on torture, cruelty, and inhumane treatment of its citizens. The Public Ministry reported that within the first months of this bill, reports of crimes against humanity rose to 193 percent. Most of these accounts involved groups such as the Carabineros.
- The nonprofit, Human Rights Watch, is concerned that the military courts are not yet completely transparent. Typically, Chilean civilian authorities have had control over the Carabineros and Investigative Police, and the government the as infrastructure in place to rectify abuses and prevent corruption. Yet, the military justice system handles these discrepancies. Recently, Human Rights Watch reported that these reports by the military courts may not be effective, and instead are riddled with corruption.
- The government of Chile has been rectifying relations with the indigenous communities. In June this year, the government declared its Plan for the Recognition and Development of Araucanía. The goals of this plan include economic development, protection of victims from violence, and the overall promotion of participation from indigenous people. President Bachelet has apologized to the Mapuche People for the wrongs they faced.
- The Chilean government has recognized nine distinct indigenous groups in the Law on Indigenous Peoples Protection and Development. The administration created a system to protect these mistreated groups. New services to provide social, cultural and economic development have been implemented.
- Chile now has laws against discrimination in the workplace. This law forbids employment discrimination centered on race, sex, civil status, religion, affiliation with a union, politics, disability, sexual orientation and many others. Furthermore, this law offers civil legal options to victims of employment discrimination. This past June, congress passed the Law on Workplace Inclusion, especially for disabled people. The government is doing a very good job at administering anti-discrimination laws. There is no evidence of police or judicial unwillingness to implement these laws. Sanctions have been given to companies denying maternity leave that has generally proven to be deterring violations.
Fighting years against an oppressive government, the future of Chile is looking up. Human rights issues are being acknowledged and global organizations are holding Chile accountable. These facts about human rights in Chile show areas that need improvement, as well as cases in which positive strides are being made. Cases of discrimination are being acknowledged and challenged, preventing the government and companies from continuing prejudice.
– Stefanie Babb