SANTIAGO – As if Human Rights Day in Chile wasn’t loaded enough, a march in the center of Santiago ended with three critically injured protesters. At least two of them were hit by teargas canisters on the head. Observers from the National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) visited the victims in hospital.
Human Rights Day in Chile, after over 50 days of protests, would become an accumulation of tensions, not only because of the human rights violations committed during those protests. Several events earlier that day proved that Chile has still a long road ahead in dealing with human rights abuses.
From Chadwick to Chemicals
December 10 marks not only the day the UN General Assembly adopted the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also the anniversary of the death of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Subscribers to notorious daily El Mercurio started their day with a page full of praise from readers who admire the deceased general.
On the anniversary of the military dictator’s death, the condolence pages of Chile’s main daily, El Mercurio, are packed with RIP messages for Augusto Pinochet… pic.twitter.com/xisxUzZpfO
— John Bartlett (@jwbartlett92) December 10, 2019
Later that day, the Senate discussed the constitutional accusation against former Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick – who started his political career under the wings of Pinochet. Chadwick is held responsible for the deaths, cases of sexual abuse and torture and illegal arrests during the first weeks of the protests. Before Senate jury, Chadwick insisted on his innocence: “In my position, I have never allowed any form of violation of human rights”.
The day became even more loaded when the prosecutor in the city of Curicó withdrew all charges against an army corporal, who was accused of killing a protester in the early first days of the uprising. The protester died from a gunshot wound in the chest, allegedly from the soldier who had no formal order of being present at the protest. Although the soldier admitted having fired his rifle, autopsy showed the bullet that caused the death of the victim did not come from the weapon carried by the soldier. He could leave preventive detention.
And although the national police forces – or Carabineros – are already facing harsh criticism over their responses to the protests, reports came out of riot police using chemicals in water cannons, in Chile known as the guanaco. The Medical College reported an increase in cases of people with severe burning wounds after getting hit by the water cannon. Carabineros admitted to using CS chemicals – or – chlorobenzylidene malononitrile – developed by the British army in the 1950s for crowd control.
However, according to news outlet El Desconcierto, a doctor who testified in front of the Senate’s Human Rights commission, said that what is being used “is not just tap water or water with CS. It is not possible that so many people get burned this way. In the Central Post [a major hospital], specific protocols had to be created for people with burning wounds. And it is happening in cities throughout the country […] Someone is not telling the truth.”
Protesters March on Human Rights Day
To demand the government to prosecute human rights violations, protesters gathered in the late afternoon to march on Plaza Italia in the center of the capital. Armed with signs of eyes, referring to the now more than 300 people with eye traumas due to police violence, the march headed to what they call Plaza Dignidad, formally Plaza Italia.
Los ojos del pueblo denuncian al estado de Chile que viola los DDHH de forma sistemática. Ahora en plaza de la dignidad para luego marchar al costanera center #chadwickesculpable
— Felipe Parada (@FelipeParadaM) December 10, 2019
Soon the crowd was dispersed by riot police, who have minimized their use of rubber bullets after several condemnations from human rights organizations. However, their use of teargas might be as dangerous: a 15-year-old girl and a 35-year-old man were brought in with severe head injuries after getting directly hit by canisters. According to human rights observers in the Central Post emergency hospital in the center of Santiago, eight more people were brought in with injuries due to teargas canisters.
And so, Human Rights Day in Chile showed that whilst human rights violations continue, the country will hardly unite. As long as justice is not served to those who are responsible for those violations, the protests are likely to continue.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.