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Death human rights lawyer during clashes with police investigated

Santiago – A law student has died from injuries sustained during protests in Santiago. Protesters demanded greater autonomy for the indigenous Mapuche population. Her death is attributed to police violence, but authorities maintain the circumstances remain unclear while an investigation is underway.

Protests in Santiago over the weekend have resulted in a casualty. Dennisse Cortes, a 43-year-old law student, who also worked for the Ombudsman’s Office and focused on Mapuche causes, has died amid clashes with police.

Violence erupted when the Carabineros police force reportedly moved to use water cannons and tear gas on a crowd that was performing an indigenous ceremony in Bustamante Park, to which protesters responded by throwing rocks, according to AFP.

Carabineros reported the 40 minute confrontation resulted in 10 detained, “nine for disorders and one for carrying a white weapon,” while 17 Carabineros were injured. Local media reported Mapuche spokesperson Belén Paillán as saying that the police response “as usual, …was excessive, it was brutal. We were only delivering a message, doing the ceremony, when they came to interrupt everything. We had not taken a step onto the street.”

Shocked reactions

Human rights advocates reacted in shock and with anger. London 38, an organization located at the infamous inner-city torture site of the dictatorship’s secret police, tweeted, “truth and justice. No more impunity for state violence in Chile.” Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano, where Cortes studied, said in a statement her death was “a devastating event” and that “Chile cannot allow human rights defenders to risk their lives.” The university will join lawsuits to clarify the circumstances for her death. The Ombudsman’s Office said Cortes was “fulfilling her duties” when she went to the protest.

Cortes sustained an injury to the neck to which she succumbed in hospital. Carabineros general Enrique Monrás, who oversees the Metropolitan area, has blamed the protesters. “Unfortunately, during the protests, a hooded group constantly attacked Carabineros personnel with fireworks, a circumstance in which one of them hit one of the protesters who was next to the Carabineros. Unfortunately, that person, as a result of the severity of the injuries, died in the afternoon,” he said in a statement.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado echoed these claims. “We will follow the details of this investigation to be able to clarify what happened unjustly in this disproportionate violence by some who choose this path against the police, and which unfortunately costs civilians their lives.”

But human rights organizations claim Cortes was met with even more force when she asked police to stop using tear gas. They also claim police blocked ambulances from accessing the site, causing at least indirectly her death.

A video circulating on social media shows Cortes standing near a group of Carabineros when fireworks explode a few meters from her, in response to which a Carabinero fired a tear gas canister.
The prosecutor’s office started an investigation but an announcement about the cause of her death has not been made yet. An autopsy has also not been performed. Cortes’ mother said she’s grateful that investigations police PDI took the case. “I only trust [the PDI], and God,” she said.

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