Chile: No excuses for impunity 30 years on

Thirteen years after the return of civilian government many issues of concern, such as impunity for perpetrators of gross human rights violations committed under the military government and the demand of full reparation for the victims and their families, remain unresolved in the struggle to deal with the heavy legacy of gross human rights abuses.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The repercussions of the military coup of 11 September 1973 are still being felt 30 years later. There have been current calls for national unity, but true reconciliation will not be achieved until truth and justice have been fully established.'

The widespread and systematic 'disappearances', killings and acts of torture that took place under military rule constitute crimes against humanity. The fate of most of the 'disappeared' remains unknown and the vast majority of those who committed human rights violations remain unpunished.

The human rights proposal issued recently by the Chilean government represents a positive step, but Amnesty International is concerned that many obstacles remain in the way of the search for truth, justice and reparation for which victims and their families have been campaigning for the last 30 years.

Chief amongst these obstacles is Decree Law 2191 of 1978, known as the Amnesty Law, which provides immunity from prosecution for military personnel implicated in human rights abuses following the coup until March 1978.

Lesley Warner said:

'While the recent human rights proposals are a positive step, many more steps must be taken before Chile can truly turn the corner on its dark past.

'The 'amnesty law', which has obstructed truth and justice for 25 years, is incompatible with Chile's obligations under international law. It should be ruled null and void. Military courts still have jurisdiction over many human rights crimes, making the pursuit of real justice for victims nigh-on impossible.

'The jurisdiction of these courts must be reduced to exclude human rights violations. The authorities must fulfil recent proposals to investigate all cases of human rights violations committed during the military government in civil courts.'

Amnesty International stated that impunity of human rights violators should not be preserved through any policy which could result in de facto amnesties or pardons for human rights perpetrators. Immunity from prosecution should not be granted to members of the military who argue that they were acting under orders.

Amnesty International reminded the authorities that the defence of superior orders to crimes against humanity is absolutely forbidden in international law.

The Chilean torture ship Esmeralda was due to dock in Dartmouth last month. Hundreds of people were tortured on the ship and a British priest was murdered onboard during Augusto Pinochet's rule in Chile. Popular protests by Amnesty International and other groups had been planned in Dartmouth and London and the Esmeralda's July visit was cancelled.

Amnesty International Chile, in co-operation with members in the UK, Argentina, Germany and Spain, and with the support of hundreds of organisations and websites around the world, is launching a virtual campaign and petition on the internet for the truth to be told about the Esmeralda. The petition can be signed on-line, and can be accessed at www.amnistia.cl, the Amnesty International Chile website.

Background information

One month before the 30th anniversary of the coup, President Ricardo Lagos of Chile announced his government's plan for dealing with the legacy of human rights abuses committed under Augusto Pinochet's military government.

These proposals finally addressed the issue of the thousands of victims of torture, who have been calling for official recognition of their suffering and reparations for this most serious human rights abuse.

The combined findings of two government commissions established in the early 1990s officially documented 3,197 cases of victims of 'disappearances', extrajudicial execution and death resulting from torture under military rule. However, this figure does not include the thousand of victims of torture who survived their ordeal.

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