Chile: Two years on from social unrest Amnesty International presents report on command responsibility to National Prosecutor’s Office

In the context of the second anniversary of the social unrest in Chile, Amnesty International has submitted a report to the National Prosecutor’s Office compiling international standards on the criminal responsibility of Carabineros commanders in the context of the crimes committed during the response to the protests.

“Two years ago, thousands of people in Chile courageously took to the streets to demand greater equality and human rights, such as a decent pension, housing, education and quality public health. The authorities’ response was violent repression and criminalization of social protest, through excessive use of force, and discriminatory and disproportionate use of pre-trial detention, among other serious human rights violations – a situation that, to date, the government has persisted in denying or minimizing,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International has shown that the means and techniques put in place within the Carabineros enabled, promoted or tolerated the excessive use of force. However, no strategic commander has been prosecuted to date, and many of the same officials who are alleged to have committed human rights violations are still, to this day, in their posts in charge of controlling the protests. On this anniversary, Amnesty International reiterates that justice and the structural reform of the Carabineros are fundamental steps to ensure that these human rights violations do not happen again.

“Thousands of victims could tell a different story today were it not for the deliberate oversight of Carabineros commanders who allowed acts of torture and ill-treatment against demonstrators in order to disperse them at all costs or detain them without the necessary guarantees. The authorities knew what was happening and failed to act decisively to prevent repetition of such acts. Two years on from the unrest, investigations have made little progress. The Prosecutor’s Office must investigate the responsibility of the entire chain of command, right up to the highest level, without delay. “We hope that this report will help to end this prolonged and unacceptable impunity,” said Ana Piquer, executive director of Amnesty International Chile.

The authorities’ response was violent repression and criminalization of social protest

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Deliberate oversight and impunity

The report submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office analyses the individual criminal responsibility of those superiors who failed to prevent or report the excessive and disproportionate use of force by members of the institution.

There has been little or no administrative accountability on the part of the relevant superiors for the oversight that has cost the lives and safety of so many people, in addition to the poor functioning of internal control mechanisms after the commission of the crimes and human rights violations. These commanders also deliberately obstructed access to information to the Prosecutor’s Office and allowed impunity within the institution – for example, in cases such as those of Alex Núñez, Gustavo Gatica and Fabiola Campillai.

This environment of bias and impunity is clear when one notes that, two years after the widespread repressive response by the Carabineros, the then Director of Order and Security has not only not been investigated for his role and responsibility during the social unrest but has been promoted to the top post of the institution as Director General. The former Director General was not removed from his post for his possible responsibility for the human rights violations, including killings, torture and other ill-treatment documented in the organization’s report.

This institutional culture of impunity was supported by the inflammatory discourse of the Executive that demonized the protest by characterizing the demonstrators as a powerful, organized and ruthless enemy, which promoted and made possible the various crimes committed during the unrest. To this day, disproportionate use of force continues to be repeated, and the government maintains a discourse of unrestricted support for the Carabineros, even going as far as to deny the seriousness of what happened two years ago or the need to address it in a structural manner.

Urgent reform of the Carabineros

As Amnesty International has indicated, a broad and deep reform of the Chilean Carabineros institution is needed, at a normative and cultural level, to ensure that law enforcement agencies strictly follow international standards on the use of force.

It is for this reason that, in the context of the second anniversary of the social unrest, Amnesty International also launched the report Police in the spotlight: Towards police accountability for human rights violations in the Americas, the result of research that compiled experiences from across the region – including Chile – in collaboration with more than 100 representatives from civil society, academia, public officials and experts on the issue.

Two years on from the unrest, investigations have made little progress

Ana Piquer, executive director of Amnesty International Chile

This report reminds us that the only way to put an end to police abuse is to engage in a process of structural reform of these institutions through a broad dialogue with civil society that is capable of identifying patterns of violence and formulating independent, transparent and participatory mechanisms of investigation and accountability, including effective command responsibility.

In this regard, the report proposes the five key points referred to in its title: first, independent and effective police monitoring mechanisms; second, mechanisms for meaningful participation of civil society and victims’ organizations; third, appropriate protocols for investigating police abuse; fourth, addressing illegal policing as a structural issue; and fifth, ensuring the accountability of senior commanders and those above.

Additional information:

Amnesty International has documented how, during the massive demonstrations in October 2019, the Chilean Carabineros committed serious and widespread human rights violations, especially of the right to personal safety, and possible crimes under international law. According to figures from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Institute of Human Rights up to March 2021, there have been more than 8,000 victims of state violence and more than 400 cases of eye trauma. These widespread violations demonstrate a pattern of conduct that reveals an intention to harm demonstrators in order to silence protest, or else assuming such harm as a necessary evil. The scale and consistency of the human rights violations and possible crimes under international law committed could have been avoided, but the strategic and operational commanders of the police institution deliberately failed to implement certain measures within their power.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Ilsen Jara: [email protected]