The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has denounced Chile’s Carabineros over the “disproportionate” repression of student protesters, which in some cases it described as “incompatible” with a functioning democracy.
Carabineros are accused of violently dispersing protests that have been sweeping across the country for nearly six months with tear gas, water-cannons and batons, as well as arbitrary detentions and even torture.
“The way in which these protests, that involve children and adolescents, have been suppressed is deplorable,” said Paulo Sergio Coelho, one of the four commissioners that oversaw the preliminary hearing.
The hearing, entitled “human rights and public demonstrations in Chile,” was held at IACHR headquarters in Washington D.C.
Chile’s Instituto Igualdad (Equality Institute), which submitted the claims in August, has been criticized from within the ranks of the government and its ruling Alianza coalition of “damaging the image of the country.”
Carabinero Major Heriberto Navarro defended his institution against the criticism, saying that officers had acted in “faithful compliance with the legal standards in force.”
However much of the criticism of the petitioners was aimed directly at those legal standards.
Instituto Igualdad representative, Marelic Branislav, argued that the legal framework governing public demonstrations in Chile was outdated and unethical.
His criticism focused on Decree 1086, which was legislated during the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). The law requires citizens to seek government permission for any public protest and authorizes Carabineros to use force to disperse protests that are not authorized -- as they did on October 6 -- even if they are entirely peaceful.
The other main criticism of the country’s legal framework was the process by which Carabineros officers are tried for their crimes in military courts, as Chile’s uniformed police force falls under the Armed Forces.
It is a partial system that tends to protect the abuser, who will ultimately not be penalized, said Jaque Ribera, also representing Instituto Igualdad.
Major Navarro defended this process by stating that five officers had been sanctioned for excessive violence in dispersing the student protest of Aug. 6.
Director of human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile, Miguel Ángel González, urged the commission to reject criticism of the country’s legal framework, saying that there was absolutely no impediment to demonstrations in Chile.
This is not a problem of freedom of expression, but rather one of violence, said González.
González said that Carabineros acted to protect “innocent bystanders” from the aggression of criminal elements within the student movement.
“There are certain violent groups…the same that are involved in environmental marches and among football fans…that have infiltrated the student protests and that…use it [protests] as an excuse to go into the streets and cause destruction,” he said.
The commission suggested that Chile amend the law regulating demonstrations and end military tribunals that involve involving civil offences.
It posed a number of questions to both parties to be investigated before continuing the hearing, including an explanation of how Carabineros distinguish vandals from protesters and how many complaints brought against the government by protesters had been settled.
The case is the second involving Chile currently before the IACHR. The other relates to a conflict between indigenous groups in Chile’s northern Atacama region and mining giant Barrick Gold.
By Joe Hinchliffe – The Santiago Times