SANTIAGO – A report by the Public Ministry indicates that 3,050 of 6,568 lawsuits filed for alleged human rights violations during the estallido social have been archived due to lack of evidence and unreachable victims. Human rights advocates say the prosecution service isn’t doing enough. They fear perpetrators will go unpunished.
The United Nations and other international observers registered numerous suspected human rights violations in the handling of the social uprising that began in October 2019. Consistent with their findings, as many as 8,581 human rights violation cases were filed in Chile, many alleging excessive use of force by police, although 2,013 were later merged with others. According to CIPER, a report by the Public Ministry indicates that 3,050 of the remaining 6,568 lawsuits have been archived, and human rights unit director for the prosecution service Ymay Ortiz attributed this to “a lack of resources.”
Only one lawsuit has succeeded: police officer Juan Maulén was charged with attempted manslaughter and was put on probation for five years by the Rancagua court, after shooting a teargas canister at a protester’s head.
The prosecution service has “serious problems to meet international due diligence standards when it comes to human rights,” lawyer and academic Claudio Nash told Chile Today. Lawyer Karinna Fernández agrees; she told CIPER that “before the social uprising we had allegations from children who were blinded during other social protests, and those cases still remain in impunity.”
According to Fernández, the Chilean prosecution service must but has not followed international standards. By way of example, Fernández said that actress María Grandjean “was hit by a teargas canister at 8 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2019 and police took her first declaration in September 2020, almost a year later.” The perpetrators remain free to this day.
Nash said that although the prosecution service was overwhelmed by the number of lawsuits, “as would have happened in any other place,” the entity nevertheless had the responsibility to take adequate measures amid the human rights crisis.
A report published in December 2020 by the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA) concluded that “there is a widespread breach of informality, opportunity and thoroughness in the investigations of severe human rights violations.” The publication also suggested that the prosecutor’s institutional framework does not have a specialist unit focused on investigating human rights violations, unlike other Latin American countries.
Nonetheless, the JSCA’s document lauded the communication efforts between the specialist unit for human rights, gender violence and sex crimes, and social organizations.
Improving the Prosecution Service
Nash thinks that it’s important that the Public Ministry adopts the recommendations by international organizations for investigating human rights violations. He believes that prioritizing lawsuits and setting up a system that allows investigations to hold high-ranking officials accountable should also be implemented. “Improving relations with the relevant organizations is also important,” he added.
The proposals by the JSCA include: a unified database for the judicial system, which would streamline analysis and data comparison between institutions; a committee to speed up inquiries and investigate claims of obstruction of justice by the police; and the urgent implementation of a compensation program for victims of human rights violations.
“These should be a minimum standard for proceedings to avoid the direction Chile is heading to with impunity,” Nash said. The police force has failed to adopt any of the recommendations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which Nash blames on the state: “Carabineros [the national police force] is politically empowered … and this doesn’t only have an effect today, it will have long-lasting consequences.”