According to several international human rights organizations, the approval of the Naín-Retamal law by the Lower House could have serious consequences for human rights in Chile. The new law contains a ‘privileged self-defense’ clause that expands the circumstances in which police are allowed to use lethal force. The human rights organization urges the government to make amendments before the law goes into effect.
The new Naín-Retamal law was passed by the Lower House on March 29. The bill includes a so-called “privileged self-defense” clause that grants Chile’s police force, the Carabineros, and other police officials greater freedom in the use of lethal force.
The approval of the law is controversial, especially in light of systematic human rights violations by Carabineros during the 2019 Estallido Social. Over the last years, there has been a growing chorus of calls to reform the police institution. The decision to grant that same institution more power via this new law has sparked criticism by human rights organizations.
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, stated that “Chilean authorities have forgotten that implementing a comprehensive reform of the Carabineros is an effective way to protect both citizens and police officers. Ignoring the real needs for transformation that the institution requires, means missing a historic opportunity that was forged by the suffering of thousands of victims during the Estallido Social.”
“While protection mechanisms for law enforcement officers are necessary, they must be based on the protection of human rights, setting clear boundaries and providing personnel with adequate tools to do their job,” reads Amnesty International’s organization-wide statement.
The Chilean National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) published its own statement, saying that it became “dramatically clear during the Estallio Social of 2019,” that there is “a problem at the operational level of our police, which is due in part to the lack of consensus or legal regulation of the functions and limits of their work.” According to the INDH, the new law “fails to address the real operational problems in security,” “is disproportionately biased towards Carabineros,” and “contains provisions that constitute setbacks in human rights standards that also do not solve the operational problems of police work.”
The United Nations (UN) Humans Rights Office in South America released a similar statement, saying that “The bill contains provisions on privileged police self-defense that “do not conform to international human rights law,” and that “some of the bill’s proposals do not provide an adequate response to the challenges faced by the country’s police forces.”
A Dangerous Precedent
The wording of the new law sets a dangerous precedent, according to Amnesty. The wording is ambiguous, and offers the possibility of a subjective interpretation of events by the official involved in the events, when establishing whether self-defense is legitimate. The new law would therefore, to a certain extent, establish legal presumption in favor of the police, even when there may be human rights violations. In that way, judicial guarantees for victims of police violence could be limited. The UN Human Rights Office points out that this would disproportionately affect groups with less access to resources and legal assistance.
Rodrigo Bustos, executive director of Amnesty International Chile, explains that under the new laws, “human rights violations and crimes under international law, as terrible as those committed during the Estallido Social, could recur with greater frequency and with less possibility of being adequately punished, because the ‘privileged’ ground also reverses the burden of proof, making it the victim who must prove that this exoneration does not apply.”
After being approved in the Lower House, the bill now goes to the Senate for additional review, and possibly modification. Amnesty International, the INDH, and the UN urge the Senate to carefully review the proposal and to make necessary amendments to the laws.
Matthijs is a newly graduated journalism student from Groningen, the Netherlands. As a starting journalist and aspiring foreign correspondent, he decided to extend his 6-month university exchange in Chile to do an internship at Chile Today. He enjoys writing about a broad range of topics, but international relations, politics and conflicts are his key interests.