Chile: Ratification of Rome statute positive step, justice must follow

By ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Chile is making a major step forward as far as the future is concerned but not settling its debt with the past, Amnesty International said today following the passing of the law authorizing recognition of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Although the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction to investigate or try crimes committed in Chile during the period of military rule (1973 to 1990), recognition of its jurisdiction over cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that may be committed in the future is, without doubt, a positive step that clearly signals a rejection of impunity.

“Recognition of the Court’s jurisdiction should not mean that it is forgotten that in Chile an amnesty law is still in place for heinous crimes which under international law should be investigated and punished”, said Susan Lee, Director of the Americas Programme of Amnesty International.

The fact that the “amnesty law” (Decree Law 2191/78) remains in force has also been frequently interpreted as not standing in the way of the investigation and punishment of those crimes. However, jurisprudence developed by Chilean courts has – sometimes – considered crimes against humanity and war crimes committed within the context of a non-international armed conflict to be subject to statutes of limitations. The courts have sometimes also imposed sentences that are inconsistent with the seriousness of the crimes committed.   “The application of statutes of limitation to crimes against international law, like torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, as well as any civil proceedings seeking reparation, is a breach of the obligations incumbent on Chile under international law”, Susan Lee said.

Amnesty International urges the Chilean State to impartially investigate and punish all human rights violations committed in the past, repeal the “amnesty law” and establish that crimes against international law and any reparation proceedings available under its domestic legislation should not be time-barred. The organization is also asking the Chilean Government to set up a comprehensive reparations programme that complies with the principles relating to the right of victims of serious human rights violations to a remedy and reparations, which were lobbied for in the United Nations by the Chilean State itself.  

Background Information On 17 June 2009, the Chilean Chamber of Deputies passed the Act of Ratification of the Rome Statute with 79 votes in favour, 9 against and 1 abstention, thereby completing the legal process. It still remains for it to be promulgated by President Bachelet and for the ratification instrument to be deposited with the Office of the United Nations Secretary General.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted in Rome on 17 July 1998. So far 108 States have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction to investigate and try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed subsequent to the entry into force of the Statute within each State Party and, in any event, not prior to 1 July 2002.

Under the Statute, the International Criminal Court shall have jurisdiction when a State Party is unwilling or genuinely unable to exercise its own criminal jurisdiction in relation to the above-mentioned crimes, whether committed on its territory or by its nationals on the territory of other States, including the territory of States who are not parties to the Rome Statute. The United Nations Security Council can also refer to the International Criminal Court situations in States, whether or not they are parties, in which it believes that crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction are being or have been committed.

So far 108 States are parties to the Rome Statute and Chile is the last State in South America to join the system. The International Criminal Court is currently investigating cases relating to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur (Sudan) and the Central African Republic and has issued over 15 arrest warrants. All of them, except that of Sudan, have been referred to the Court at the request of the States themselves who have stated that they are unable to investigate the crimes in question.