SANTIAGO — The Senate will vote on a bill to outlaw the denial or justification of human rights violations committed during the civil-military dictatorship. Former president Michelle Bachelet presented the bill in 2017. But the director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch advised senators to reject the proposal.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) advised parliament on Sept. 28 to reject the “anti-denial” bill that, if it became law, would punish with prison sentences of up to three years the denial or justification of the Pinochet dictatorship’s human rights violations.
The bill was presented by former president and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in 2017. It was approved by Congress on Sept. 22 this year and is now pending Senate approval.
Since 1990, the country has had four commissions to review and recognize the victims of the dictatorship. The number is higher than 40,000 people of whom 3,065 were killed and/or forcibly disappeared between 1973 and 1990.
José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, said the Senate should reject the bill because it would violate freedom of expression, and it contravenes international human rights standards. “Offensive expressions must be countered with arguments, not imprisonment.”
El Senado de Chile debe rechazar un proyecto de ley que criminaliza el negacionismo sobre los aberrantes delitos de la dictadura de Pinochet.
Las expresiones ofensivas deben contrarrestarse con argumentos, no con la prisión.
— José Miguel Vivanco (@JMVivancoHRW) September 28, 2020
In a statement, the organization said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights are relevant in this context. Chile ratified both. They contain clauses saying that “laws may only censor speech to the extent necessary and proportionate to ensure respect for the rights or reputation of others,” or the “protection of public order.”
According to HRW, the “anti-denial” bill is “neither necessary nor aligned with the goals of protecting the rights of others or public order.”
Vivanco said that if passed, the law would be counterproductive. “Laws that censor speech risk turning their targets into victims and drawing even more attention to their ideas.”
Reactions to the HRW Position
The bill has stirred controversy. Justice Minister Hernán Larraín and human rights undersecretary Lorena Recabarren even tried to reverse the initiative last year.
Communist Party representative Carmen Hertz, who is also a human rights lawyer, told news outlet El Mostrador that freedom of speech can be limited in certain circumstances, such as to honor victims. “If it were as Vivanco says, that freedom of expression cannot be censored, there would be no crimes of libel or slander, for example.”
On the other hand, Camila Flores, who is congressperson for right-wing National Renovation party, said the bill is a violation of human rights. “The same people who claimed to be persecuted for their ideas in the past, today intend to imprison those of us who do not think like them.”
Edited by Claudio Moraga.
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant