The Chilean Crisis
This blog, by Valentina Rioseco Vallejos, concerns the current Chilean crisis. It aims to provide the context under which the crisis is occurring, while making reference to human rights violations committed by Chilean State actors. It also discusses the latest developments in the crisis.
Valentina is a first year PhD student at Edinburgh Law School. She is a Chilean licensed lawyer and holds an LLM in Human Rights from the University of Edinburgh.
The Chilean crisis began three weeks ago, with students jumping metro turnstiles in Santiago in protest against a price rise of the metro. The government responded to the protests with violent repression which, in turn, led to riots. Rapidly, the protests where reproduced in other cities and they continue to occur today. Protesters argue that the problem is not only the metro fare, but the structural inequalities that do not allow people to afford their basic living costs. Scholars and politicians argue that protests are based on the need for a new constitution and this idea is now gaining force.
Chile is still ruled by the Political Constitution adopted during the dictatorship of General Pinochet, which creates the rules for maintaining a neoliberal economic system. The Constitution was highly influenced by the Chicago Boys, a group of Chilean economists who studied with Milton Friedman. The Chilean constitution does not guarantee effective access to fundamental rights, such as the right to education, the right to health and decent pensions. It also restrains the will of the majority. For example, it demands a legislative supermajority to approve organic laws. Furthermore, workers live with a very low minimum wage (£217.00 per month), which is not enough to cover basic needs.
On 19 October, the Chilean president Sebastián Piñera gave a public speech regarding the social protests. He began his speech declaring “we are at war against a very dangerous enemy”. The rest of his speech continued in the same line, framing protests as acts of delinquency and solely focussing on the riots. He barely mentioned that the majority of the protests were peaceful throughout the country and he did not refer directly to the substantive claims raised by protesters. Consequently, he declared a State of Emergency in several cities of the country, which lasted until 27 October. The Chilean State of Emergency allows the President to delegate security tasks to the military. It also allows for the restriction to freedom of movement within the country. According to the declarations of the President, the State of Emergency would allow protecting both, the security and the property of the Chilean citizens, against criminals and rioters. Protesters responded with massive peaceful demonstrations bearing signs with the phrase “we are not at war”. The protests are also characterised by “Cacerolazos”, which means people beating their pots with wooden spoons.
Human rights violations
During the State of Emergency both, the military and the police committed grave violations to human rights and riots where not properly controlled. These violations included the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and the right to liberty and security. As the State of Emergency is now finished, military personnel are no longer in the streets. However, the police continue to commit human rights violations and use disproportionate force against protesters. By 30 October 2019, 22 deaths had occurred in the context of the social protests. Five of these deaths were committed by state agents. The Chilean National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) has filed complaints in respect of these deaths. One of the deaths was caused by gunshots of military personnel in Curicó, a city where no State of Emergency was declared. There are also victims being run over by state vehicles, killed by rubber bullet wounds and by beatings. By 4 November, the INDH had filed 181 complaints against state agents, of which 152 allege torture, maltreatment and sexual abuse. The INDH also reported 4364 detentions with 479 of these detainees are identified as children and adolescents. In addition, it stated that 1659 people have been injured, of which 160 suffered eye wounds caused by gas pepper bombs and shootings. Journalists and photographers have also been beaten, shot and detained. On 29 October, a human rights observer from the INDH was shot by the police six times in his leg. In other contexts, human rights treaty bodies have already reproached the violent and repressive responses by the Chilean police in contravention of Chile’s international human rights obligations (CRC, para. 36 and CAT, para.22). The human rights violations committed during these events demonstrate that the protocols of the Chilean police and military personal have not improved.
International and regional organisations, together with non-governmental organisations are watching the Chilean crisis. The High Commissioner of Human Rights (HCHR) declared, “there are disturbing allegations of excessive use of force by security and armed forces” and expressed alarmed at reports stating that “some detainees have been denied access to lawyers, which is their right, and that others have been mistreated while in detention”. A team of the HCHR is currently being deployed to the country. They are examining the human rights allegations, meeting with various actors and gathering information on measures taken by the Government to address the situation. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the excessive use of force applied by police and military forces and rejected all forms of violence in the context of the ongoing situation in Chile. In addition, it declared to have received complaints regarding detentions where state agents acted with a disproportionate use of force, harassed children, sexual abused protestors, and subjected still more to torture or other ill-treatment. Thus, it called a public hearing concerning the human rights situation in Chile. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also condemned the excessive use of force. The latter announced a research mission to document grave human rights violations.
As of time of writing, the political situation seems to have moderately improved. However, the numbers of human rights violation victims reported by the INDH continue to increase every day. President Piñera changed his cabinet and affirmed that would implement some new social measures. However, he is currently governing as a leader of the right, thus the economic and political structure that maintains inequalities remains the same.
The political debate is now focussed on whether the Constitution should be modified and if so, how. Chileans are currently organising citizens assemblies (cabildos ciudadanos) in which they are discussing how to change the Constitution and the pension system. The government has not yet delivered any proposal concerning these demands.
Chilean civil society has, for years, anticipated this type of social and political confrontation. Inequalities and abuse are too evident across Chile. It is encouraging that the country finally woke up and demanded change. As Chileans watching from Scotland, however, we remain deeply concerned about the wellbeing of our fellow citizens, our families and our friends.
This Blogspot is the result of conversations and information shared between Chilean citizens living both in Edinburgh and in Chile. To all of them, thank you.