Chile: Pinochet victims see justice within their grasp

New legislation which would overturn an amnesty law that has been shielding perpetrators of human rights violations committed during Pinochet’s brutal regime is a monumental step forward against impunity, said Amnesty International today. 

“For many years this law acted as a shield, hiding those responsible for serious human rights abuses from justice. Victims have been forced to live knowing those that tortured and killed were enjoying impunity for their crimes,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Director Americas Programme, Amnesty International.

“The overturning of the law would be an historic moment for Chile and would bring the country one step closer to addressing the crimes of the Pinochet regime, as well as sending a clear message that Chile does not protect those responsible for human rights violations.” 

The Amnesty Decree Law, passed in 1978, exempts all individuals who committed human rights violations between 11 September 1973 and 10 March 1978 from criminal responsibility. 

More than 3,000 people were disappeared or extra-judicially killed in Chile between 1973 and 1990, according to official figures. Just under 40,000 people became survivors of political imprisonment and/ or torture.

In recent years some judicial decisions have circumvented the application of the law. However, the continued existence of the legislation is incompatible with Chile’s international human rights obligations and represents an affront to the thousands of victims of Pinochet’s regime and their relatives.

Plans to overturn the law were announced on the 41st anniversary of the military coup that installed General Augusto Pinochet into power. The bill to overturn the legislation is currently before parliament. 

“This law has been a deplorable legacy of the military regime. Its existence is a source of enduring pain for the country. By declaring the Amnesty Decree Law null and void Chile will have the opportunity to redress the victims and their families”, said Guadalupe Marengo.

“Nearly 25 years after the end of the military regime Chile is finally moving towards righting the wrongs of the past; this is an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

Background information

Last September, in the context of the 41st anniversary of the 1973 Pinochet military coup, the Chilean government announced its intention to speed up (suma urgencia) the annulment of the Amnesty Law on the basis of a bill introduced in 2006. This was done on September 23. On 30 September the urgency was lowered (urgencia simple). The bill is currently under discussion in the Congress. 

Two other important bills to fight impunity for past crimes which were tabled before Congress in 2006 and 1994 have also been reactivated. 

One of the bills is intended to reform article 93 of the Penal Procedural Code (Codigo Procesal Penal) to ensure that war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are not subject to amnesty, pardon or statute of limitations. The other bill is seeking to adhere Chile to the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. Amnesty International welcomes the decision to make these bills a priority and urges Chile to ensure that no reservation or declaration amounting to reservation is passed when adhering to the Convention.