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Protests as Chilean torture ship comes to England

Amnesty International members will be holding protests in Dartmouth (9 July 2003, time tbc) and London (16 July 2003, 12:00 pm, West India Docks, Docklands, Meridian Gate) to voice concern at the ship's use as an 'ambassador' for Chile.

The organisation is writing to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the Chilean President and the ship's commander, calling for acknowledgement of the use of torture in Chile and full investigations into all accusations.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The use as a 'goodwill ambassador' of this vessel, where hundreds were tortured, is an affront to the victims of torture, to their families and to fundamental human rights.

'The thousands who survived torture under Pinochet have still not been acknowledged and their torturers have not been brought to justice. The Chilean navy must acknowledge the dark history of the Esmeralda and the authorities must launch a full investigation into allegations of widespread torture under Pinochet's rule.'

During General Pinochet's reign of terror in Chile, the Esmeralda was used as a floating torture centre where hundreds of people at a time were tortured, raped and murdered. The Chilean navy has still not acknowledged the ship's past and thousands of torture victims in Chile have still received no justice.

British Priest Michael Woodward was tortured to death on board the Esmeralda. He was arrested by a naval patrol in Valparaiso on 16 September 1973. On 22 September, six days later, he died in the Naval Hospital in Valparaiso as a result of the torture he was subjected to by members of the security forces.

Amnesty International calls for:

  • The Chilean government and the Chilean navy to acknowledge the serious human rights violations committed on the Esmeralda.
  • Independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and other human rights violations on navy installations and vessels during the military government.
  • The authorities to bring those responsible for torture in Chile to justice.
  • Compensation for the victims and their families.

Initiatives by successive civilian governments, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Reparation and Reconciliation Corporation and the Chilean Human Rights Discussion Table, all created to deal with Chile's serious legacy of human right violations, have not included the grave crime of torture which in Chile was widespread and systematic during the years of military government.

Testimony of Sergio Vuskovic Rojo, survivor of torture on the Esmeralda(1): 'The seven of us were tortured on the ship Esmeralda for nine days. I want to explain one of the tortures that was applied to me: I was stripped to my shorts and my hands were handcuffed behind me. There was a post there and they tied me to it. They applied electric shock on my skin, on my testicles, on my chest and back, also the officers who were interrogating me hit me 50 times in this part with their fists.'

1. Extract concerning the Esmeralda from the 'Report on the Status of Human rights in Chile' of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States, approved by the Commission at its meeting held on 24 October 1974.

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