Antofagasta, Chile – Chilean police and military forces committed serious human rights violations, including killings, torture and sexual violence during anti-government protests that have gripped the country for nearly two months, UN investigators said in a report released on Friday.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 133 acts of torture and mistreatment, 24 cases of sexual violence and isolated cases of psychological torture, including simulated executions, threats of forced disappearance and threats of rape.
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The security forces’ response to the protests “was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner”, Imma Guerras-Delgado, the leader of the UN mission to Chile, said on Friday.
Anti-government protests began eight weeks ago when secondary student staged fare evasion demonstrations over now dropped metro fare increases. Those protests sparked broader mass demonstrations against structural inequality. During the same time period, arson, looting and property destruction resulted in three billion dollars in damage, according to the government’s estimate.
Crackdowns on the protests by security forces, particularly the Carabineros police force, have resulted in thousands of detentions and injuries. Prosecutors in Chile have said they are investigating 26 deaths related to the unrest, including several alleged killings by security forces and deaths in custody.
In its 30-page report, the OHCHR said it verified 11 of the 26 deaths, including two cases in which “lethal force appears to have been used, in the form of live ammunition, when it was not strictly unavoidable to protect lives”. Such instances, “may, depending on the circumstances, amount to an extrajudicial execution”, the report added.
Investigators also found an alarming number of eye injuries, about 350, as well as a high number of serious wounds caused by less-lethal weapons. Investigators said these numbers suggest indiscriminate and improper use of such weapons, including firing at close range.
“[C]ertain human rights violations, in particular, the improper use of less-lethal weapons and cases of ill-treatment, are recurrent over time and space,” said the report.
The UN fact-finding team spent most of November in Chile documenting and gathering evidence as well as laying out a series of recommendations for the government and security forces to ensure accountability and prevent further abuses. They conducted 235 interviews with victims and 60 with police
The findings echoed prior reports by international rights organisation, as well as reiterated condemnations by Chilean rights groups, medical associations and protesters.
“This government is repressive, a violator of human rights,” said Eliecer Flores, a 30-year-old warehouse worker who lost eyesight in his right eye after being hit by a rubber-metal pellet during a protest in downtown Santiago.
“I think this upheaval is just. We are demanding what we deserve, nothing more, after years of injustice,” he told Al Jazeera.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has repeatedly committed in recent weeks to ensuring perpetrators of human rights violations are investigated and, if necessary, punished. The government has been made aware of many cases and reports, he said on Tuesday.
In an effort to quell the protests, Pinera has announced concessions, including raising the minimum wage and placing a hold on electricity prices until next year.
Carabineros general director Mario Rozas acknowledged in a public statement on Thursday that members of his police force have been involved in some “despicable” acts. Some of the force’s 856 internal investigations related to alleged human rights abuses are nearly complete and will lead to sanctions, independently of criminal investigations by prosecutors, he said.
Efforts to hold high-level politicians responsible for human rights violations have met with mixed results.
Chile’s lower house on Thursday rejected a motion to impeach Pinera over allegations that he failed to manage the protests and safeguard human rights during the unrest.
On Wednesday, however, the Senate passed a constitutional accusation against Andres Chadwick, security minister at the outset of the crisis. He is now barred for five years from holding any public office.
Along with specific recommendations for immediate measures concerning police protocols and practices, the OHCHR called on the government to establish a multi-stakeholder mechanism to identify structural causes underlying the ongoing social upheaval. It also recommended a mechanism with UN and civil society participation to evaluate the implementation of recommendations within three months.
“Recognising and learning from what happened, we should look forward in a constructive way,” Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, said in a statement on Friday.
“The 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,” Bachelet said Friday.