Human Rights

Opposition Decries Supreme Court Nominee’s Record on Human Rights Cases

SANTIAGO – With Judge Hugo Dolmetsch retirement from Chile’s Supreme Court, President Sebastián Piñera has nominated Raúl Mera to take his place. Opposition parties criticize the choice. They argue Mera’s past rulings in human rights cases are a stain.

Judge Raúl Mera is currently serving on the Court of Appeals of Valparaíso, where he was previously the presiding judge. He held a similar position at the Court of Appeals of Rancagua and he has held in total 11 high-ranking positions at courts across the country. Government coalition member UDI celebrated Mera’s nomination by President Sebastián Piñera, stating that he has an “impeccable judicial career.”

Members of the Chilean opposition and human rights organizations, however, strongly oppose the nomination, and the three biggest parties in the Chilean opposition have already declared they will vote against it. According to Senator Guido Girardi of the Party for Democracy, the nomination is a mistake. “There are severe questions about his rulings in human rights and environmental cases. I will reject his nomination”, Girardi said.

Controversial Rulings During the Dictatorship

There are several cases critics of Mera’s nomination cite for their vote against him. The most famous is the “Los Queñes” case about the assassination of Cecilia Magni and Raúl Pellegrin, members of the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), during the Pinochet dictatorship. The two were killed in 1988 in San Fernando in the Maule region.

Their bodies were later found in the Tinguiririca river, and according to independent reports from the Forensic Medical Service, a report of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Chile, and statements from witnesses, the two were tortured before being thrown into the river by four police officers.

Mera decided in 2010 that the two drowned in the river, ignoring the evidence provided by the external medical experts. The four police officers, who were also suspected of raping Magni and Pellegrin, as part of the alleged torture, were acquitted.

Pellegrin’s sister called the nomination an “insult to the relatives of victims of the dictatorship.”

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Another item the opposition point to is the “Puntarenazo” that was held in 1984. When General Pinochet traveled to the southern city that year to participate in a ceremony in honor of his regime, he was welcomed by an angry mob who shouted “murderer” at the dictator.

It was the first time such a demonstration of anger of discontent was held publicly since the coup d’état in 1973. The demonstration ended with police officers dispersing the crowd. Hundreds of protesters took refuge in the nearby cathedral to avoid arrest, but 16 were detained.

The detainees were subject to the State Security Law and the case was brought to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, where it landed on the desk of Mera. Mera decided to proceed with the case and therefore, according to the opposition, contributed to the detention of 16 protesters who were using their freedom of expression.

Violence Against Women and Environmental Rights

Another case that has Mera at the center of a more recent controversy is a ruling from 2017. A 20-year-old woman murdered a man who sexually abused her. Mera decided to sentence the woman to four years in prison. Mera, at the Court of Appeals in Valparaíso, decided to send the woman to prison and not give her an alternative sentence because there was a “voluntarily, excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs, in addition to the extreme violent action,” without questioning the existence of any previous sexual violence.

One year later, the Supreme Court intervened and overturned the prison sentence. While rulings made during the dictatorship will always be a controversial topic in Chile, rulings on violence against women are a particularly precarious topic in recent years.

Another ruling that social organizations point to is the handling of environmental cases by Mera in the Valparaíso region. After hundreds of residents of the towns of Quintero and Puchuncaví had to be hospitalized with breathing problems in 2018 due to toxic emissions by nearby industries, Mera rejected 12 appeals for protection of the local population presented by environmental organizations.

In the case of Petorca, a town in the Valparaíso region which has become a symbol of the lack of access to water in rural Chile, Mera declared appeals for protection presented by the National Institute of Human Rights and Greenpeace inadmissible.

Response to Supreme Court Nomination

The president of the Human Rights Commission of Chile’s lower house of Congress, Emilia Nuyado, says that Mera “would not comply with the impartiality and transparency required of anyone appointed to this country’s highest court of justice” due to his rulings in matters of human and environmental rights.

Human rights organizations have even set up a social media campaign with the hashtag “No more judges who are complicit in impunity” (“No más jueces cómplices de la impunidad”).

A divided political landscape in the shadow of the dictatorship: another ideological battle lies ahead.

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