According to data requested by CIPER through the Transparency law, Chile’s national police force fired over 104,000 riot shotgun shells in the first two weeks of the social protests. In this same period, 126 protesters suffered eye injuries. Although riot shotgun use decreased in November, the number of eye injuries increased to 214, suggesting that police were aiming at people’s faces.
Information released by Chile’s national police force, Carabineros de Chile, show that in October 2019 the police fired more than 104,000 12-gauge riot shotgun shells, compared to only 97 that month in 2018, and that in 2019 they caused 126 eye injuries.
Police high commands limited the use of riot guns and tear gas, and ordered the reeducation of officers regarding the correct use of these weapons and human rights. But the effects of these measures were not realized, as although the number of shots decreased, the victims of serious injuries kept increasing.
According to other documents the police gave to CIPER, the amount of ammunition used in November 2019 was only 41 percent of that used in October 2019, but the number of victims doubled: 340 injured, including 214 eye injuries. The data suggests purposeful aiming.
Only 10 days after the start of the social protests, the Medical College (the organization that oversees physician ethics in Chile) had already denounced police-inflicted eye injuries. That day a man suffered a skull fracture after being shot by police with a “supersock” bean bag cartridge that lodged in his head.
The Medical College sent the case and pictures to the National Congress and three days later, on Oct. 31, the police suspended the use of these cartridges (see police document obtained by CIPER), which contain lead ammunition and traveled 82 m/s.
Police officers receive special training on the correct use of riot shotguns to avoid serious injuries among protesters. This has been part of the institution’s practices for years, alongside multiple reviews and adjustments to their protocols regarding the use of force. Police documents retrieved by CIPER state that, from July to September 2019, 75 police officers were certified as riot shotguns-use instructors. After 150 hours of theoretical and practical training, all of them were required to know about the injuries the weapons could cause.
In March 2019, the police and the Interior Ministry published a new update to the instructions on the use of force in the Diario Oficial, which stated that weapons categorized as “non-lethal” could only be used when a civilian tries to attack an officer or other people. This raises the question whether there were, in fact, enough people trying to attack the police to justify the 104,000 riot shotgun shells fired in those first two weeks of protests.
Human Rights Violations
On Oct. 25, the day one million Chileans marched in Santiago, the United Nations Human Rights Commission announced it would send a team of observers. From the start of the social protests to Oct. 28, the day the UN observers arrived, the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) registered more than 3,500 arrests, at least 1,100 of which included injuries – 600 by firearms. Three days later, Oct. 31, Police General Mario Rozas suspended the use of “supersock” cartridges.
After student Gustavo Gatica was blinded after being shot in the face by police on Nov. 8, the protests escalated. General Rozas and Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel sent orders to the police regarding the respect for human rights, and trainers were sent to units across the country that month. Even so, 30 days later, another 123 eye injuries were reported by the INDH.
María José Hepp is currently finishing her Journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica. Living- hearing- and telling stories is her passion. Main interests are international relations, culture, and human rights.