Chile 2016/2017

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Chile 2016/2017

Impunity for past and continuing human rights violations remained a concern. Legal proceedings relating to allegations of past crimes under international law and other human rights violations continued; in a few cases, those involved were imprisoned. For much of the year, cases of unnecessary and excessive use of force by the police continued to be dealt with by the military courts. However, a law passed in November excludes civilians from military jurisdiction. Abortion remained criminalized in all circumstances, although some steps were taken to decriminalize it in limited circumstances.

Background

Between April and August, the government carried out a consultation process open to all citizens as the first step towards the adoption of a new Constitution. The current Constitution, adopted during the military government under General Pinochet, contains several provisions that are not in line with international human rights law.

In January, a law entered into force establishing a new Undersecretariat on Human Rights under the Ministry of Justice. The first Undersecretary was appointed in September.

In April, the government announced that plans to reform the law on migration were postponed indefinitely. In December it was announced that the bill would be filed in January 2017.

Police and security forces

Allegations of unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police, especially in the context of public protests, continued to be reported. Children, women, journalists and employees of the National Human Rights Institute acting as observers were among the victims.

Human rights violations involving members of the security forces continued to be dealt with by military courts. However, a new law entered into force in November that expressly stated that civilians, whether accused or the victims of crime, were excluded from military jurisdiction.

In January, the National Human Rights Institute filed a lawsuit to push for further investigation by the ordinary courts into the enforced disappearance of 16-year-old José Huenante; he was last seen being detained by policemen in September 2005. Following the lawsuit, a military court also reopened an investigation. However, at the end of the year, José Huenante’s fate and whereabouts remained unclarified and neither investigation had established the facts of the case or identified those responsible.

Impunity

During the year, several convictions for past crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed during the military regime were confirmed. In September, the Supreme Court confirmed the four-year sentences of two former military officials for the torture of General Alberto Bachelet in 1973.

Victims, their relatives and civil society organizations opposed several attempts to obtain the early release on parole of people convicted of human rights violations during the military government under Augusto Pinochet. At the end of the year, a bill was before Congress to deny the possibility of parole for those convicted of crimes against humanity.

A law establishing the crime of torture in Chilean law came into force in November. In September, Chile was one of the countries listed by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture as having delayed complying with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, because of the absence of a national mechanism for the prevention of torture.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

In January, Congress established a commission to investigate violence in Araucanía, the region most affected by land conflicts involving the Mapuche. The commission focused on crimes allegedly committed by the Mapuche as a form of protest. However, continued allegations of excessive use of force and arbitrary detentions during police operations against Mapuche communities were not investigated as they did not fall within the commission’s mandate. The Chamber of Deputies approved the commission’s conclusions in September.

In May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights extended the precautionary measures ordered in October 2015 in favour of Mapuche leader Juana Calfunao. These measures sought to protect additional members of her family living in the community of Juan Paillalef in the south of Chile from threats to their life and integrity related to a land dispute.

In August, photographer Felipe Durán and Mapuche community member Cristián Levinao were found not guilty of all charges. The two men had been accused of illegal possession of weapons and drug offences and held in preventive detention for over 300 days.

The Machi (Mapuche traditional spiritual authority) Francisca Linconao was detained in March and held pending trial. On four occasions a judge allowed her transfer to house arrest to address serious health concerns. On each occasion this was overturned on appeal and she was returned to prison shortly afterwards. In November she was transferred to hospital. In December she began a hunger strike, demanding to be held in her own home pre-trial, and her defence team filed a writ of amparo calling for the same measure. She remained on hunger strike at the end of the year.

Sexual and reproductive rights

Abortion remained a criminal offence in all circumstances. Several women seeking medical care for complications following unsafe abortions risked criminal charges after being reported to the authorities by health professionals.

In March, the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill decriminalizing abortion when the pregnancy poses a risk to a woman’s life, when it is the result of rape and in cases of serious foetal impairment. However, provisions prohibiting health professionals from reporting women were removed from the bill following their rejection by the Chamber of Deputies. The amended bill was pending before the Senate by the end of the year.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

In September, the Senate Human Rights Commission approved the Gender Identity Bill, the first step towards its approval after three years of debate. Approval by the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies remained pending at the end of the year. The Bill proposed establishing the right of individuals over 18 to have their gender identity legally recognized by changing their name and gender on official documents through an administrative process and without the existing requirements of gender reassignment surgery or medical certification.

In July, Chile reached a friendly settlement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on a complaint on behalf of three gay couples who were denied the right to marry. The settlement included the adoption of a series of measures and policies to promote the rights of LGBTI people. In August, as part of the settlement, the government announced a participatory process with civil society aimed at drafting a bill to establish marriage equality.

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