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Chile judges apologise for Pinochet inaction

Judiciary makes unprecedented apology for actions of its members under military rule in 1970s and 1980s.

Last Modified: 05 Sep 2013 20:45
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Magistrates' body acknowledged that its members had failed in its duty to protect victims of state abuse [AFP]

The body representing judges in Chile has issued a long-awaited apology for the actions of its members under military rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

In a statement on Wednesday, it said that the judiciary at the time had abandoned its role as protector of basic rights."To those who were victims of state abuse ...the time has come to ask for the forgiveness of victims ... and of Chilean society," said the Chilean Judges' Association.

More than 3,000 people were killed under the rule of General Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.

During his rule, Pinochet did away with the civil institutions such as Congress, political parties and the trade unions. The only one left intact was the judiciary, which became complicit with the regime.

Javier Zuniga,
Amnesty International

The statement comes a week before the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought General Pinochet to power.

It said the judges had ignored the plight of victims who had demanded their intervention.

"It must be said and recognised clearly and completely: the court system and especially the Supreme Court at that time, failed in their roles as safeguards of basic human rights, and to protest those who were victims of state abuse," the judges said.

 Javier Zuniga, a special adviser of rights group Amnesty International, said the apology was important, but should have come from the Supreme Court itself.

"During his rule, Pinochet did away with the civil institutions such as Congress, political parties and the trade unions. The only one left intact was the judiciary, which became complicit with the regime," he said.

"We need the Supreme Court to apologise in the name of the judiciary for its responsibility in the disappearance and other serious abuses committed during the dictatorship in Chile and to support the ongoing legal proceedings in hundreds of cases of victims of human rights violations during the rule of General Augusto Pinochet.”

'Damage so profound'

Chilean courts rejected about 5,000 cases seeking help on locating missing loved ones abducted or killed by the authorities, saying they had no information about their fate.

Authorities believe the Cold War-era Pinochet military rule was responsible for at least 3,200 killings and 38,000 cases of torture.

Gloria Elgueta, whose brother Martin was detained by Pinochet’s political police and held in the notorious torture centre "Londres 38", thought of the apology mostly as a symbolic gesture.

"The damage done is so profound and so present that what we need is to see those who were actually involved offer concrete actions that would advance issues of truth and justice today," she told Al Jazeera.

"To do that, the Chilean judiciary with the support of the state, needs to finance thorough investigations into the thousands of cases left unsolved and to do this they need to release classified archives that have key information about what happened to the disappeared."

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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