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Torture victims to be compensated.

Monday, November 29th 2004 - 20:00 UTC
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Chilean President Ricardo Lagos has announced compensation payments to thousands of victims, saying illegal imprisonment and torture were a state policy during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

In a televised address, Lagos released the recently prepared Report on Torture and Political Imprisonment, which compiled the testimonies of some 35,000 persons who suffered torture and other abuses under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

He said that he was quite moved by the horrors the witnesses described in the 1,200-page document and announced that compensation would be paid - and other benefits extended - to the victims.

In his speech, he said the preparation of the document was "an unprecedented experience in the world," and he thanked all those who contributed their testimony to the report, the creation of which was presided over by Catholic Bishop Sergio Valech.

"That was the darkest dimension of our national life," said the socialist president, adding that the report had ended the silence - which had prevailed for 31 years since Pinochet's 1973 coup d'etat - surrounding the subject of torture. Lagos said that the holding of political prisoners and the regular use of torture were state-sanctioned practices in Chile during the military regime.

The report specifically states that, particularly early in the dictatorship, "torture was a policy of the state, meant to repress and terrorize the population." "If the responsibility of agents of the state has been proven, what needs to be done is for the state to take measures to remedy the effects of so much pain," Lagos said in reference to the monetary reparations he said he will authorize be paid to the victims of the regime's abuses.

Lagos said that he would send a bill to Congress establishing a lifelong pension of 112,000 pesos (about $190) per month for all persons who were political prisoners or who were tortured. He also said that free health care would be provided for the victims, adding that the state would ensure the physical rehabilitation of those persons as well as provide preferential treatment in getting access to housing.

The National Commission on Torture and Political Imprisonment - created by Lagos in November 2003 - delivered the report to Lagos on Wednesday, Nov. 10, after working on it for a year. Information and testimony was gathered from Santiago, as well as 102 other cities and towns. In addition, testimony was also received from victims living in 40 different countries through consulates and embassies. Comprising the Commission were Bishop Valech, Maria Luisa Sepulveda, Miguel Luis Amunategui, Luciano Fouillioux, Jose Antonio Gomez, Elizabeth Lira, Lucas Sierra and Alvaro Varela.

Lagos said that of the 35,000 testimonies provided, only 28,000 were accepted as valid, while more than 7,000 did not comply with the strict requirements established by the Commission. "These 7,000 persons will have the right to have their situations reviewed by the Commission, which will ... study their antecedents to make a definitive decision" on them, he said.

Lagos also announced the creation of the National Human Rights Institute to ensure that such abuses cannot occur again. The Chilean leader began a round of talks last week with human rights organizations to discuss reparations to be made to torture victims.

The report, which beginning Sunday night will be publicly available, contains a list of people who suffered imprisonment and torture for political reasons between Sept. 11, 1973, and March 10, 1990, the latter being the date when democracy was reestablished with the inauguration of Patricio Aylwin as the first freely elected civilian leader after the dictatorship.

The document says that those institutions that tortured the regime's opponents included all branches of the armed services, the Carabineros militarized police, the DINA secret police and its successors after 1978 - the CNI and several "private" entities, an allusion to civilians who voluntarily continued the heinous practices formerly carried out by state personnel.

Chile has already made monetary reparations to the families of regime opponents who were killed or vanished without a trace during the dictatorship, and to leftists who were forced into exile.

More than 3,000 people died or disappeared as a result of political violence under the Pinochet regime, and more than 100 former soldiers have been found guilty of human rights abuses during 1973-90 period.

However, Pinochet himself, who turned 89 on Nov. 25, has used the defense of mental frailty to avoid standing trial. The military traditionally denied that the state had ordered any systematic torture or executions, saying that any such incidents were rare excesses by individual soldiers. But on Nov. 5, army commander Gen. Emilio Cheyre publicly accepted the army's responsibility in human rights abuses, a move which did not sit well with many current and former military personnel

Categories: Mercosur.

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