By Steve Anderson
Published On : Wed, Jul 30th, 2014
Mapuche demonstrators hold a sign in protest of the anti-terrorism law. Photo via Mapuexpress
Sentences against eight Mapuche rights activists convicted in 2003 under Chile’s controversial anti-terrorism law were annulled Tuesday by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).The IACHR ruled that the activists’ rights to freedom of expression, presumption of innocence and their right to question witnesses had been violated when they were tried and found guilty under the anti-terrorism law. The law allows the accused to be held without bail before trial, to receive higher penalties for crimes and to be sentenced based on anonymous testimony. The condemned activists received jail terms of between five to 10 years.
The IACHR ruling said that Chile must “adopt all judicial, administrative or any other measures necessary to vacate the criminal sentences levied against the defendants” and to indemnify each activist US$50,000 for material damages and US$100,000 for legal costs. The court also ordered the state to provide psychological care for the families of the accused and education scholarships for their children.
The condemned activists benefited by the ruling are Segundo Aniceto Norín Catrimán, Pascual Huentequeo Pichún Paillalao, Víctor Manuel Ancalaf Llaupe, Florencio Jaime Marileo Saravia, Juan Patricio Marileo Saravia, José Huenchunao Mariñán, Juan Ciriaco Millacheo Licán and Patricia Troncoso Robles.
Mapuche activist Juan Pichún, son of one of the condemned activists who later died while imprisoned, celebrated the IACHR ruling.
“This is a historic decision for the Mapuche people,” Pichún told Radio Cooperativa. “We are all very happy, but also sad because it’s very clear now that my father was innocent of the charges brought against him, and that he was unfairly condemned. Let’s hope that [President Michelle] Bachelet will abide by the decision because it is a moral issue. The governments of the Concertación coalition [precursor to the Nueva Mayoría pact] were wrong to apply this law against my father.”
The anti-terrorism law has been used repeatedly against Mapuche activists since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, including during Bachelet’s first mandate (2006-2010). But in her 2013 campaign, Bachelet acknowledged the law’s shortcomings and vowed not to use it against Mapuche land activists.
Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez said Wednesday the Bachelet government would strictly adhere to the IACHR decision.
“Chile must respect and comply with the IACHR decision,” Gómez said. “It’s my belief that the anti-terrorism law has been useless in terms of what it pretends to achieve. That’s why we have repeatedly stated that the anti-terrorism law sometimes isn’t the solution to the problem.”
Together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the IACHR makes up the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States (OAS), which serves to uphold and promote basic rights and freedoms in the Americas.
A history of struggle
After fighting off Spanish conquistadors in the late 1500s, the Mapuche people managed to maintain their independence in southern Chile’s Araucanía Region and defend against the invasion of outsiders for centuries. It was not until the Chilean government engaged in the “Pacification of the Araucanía” campaign in the 1860s that the state finally took control of the Mapuche territory.
Although the Chilean government set up a system of reservations, known as “reducciones,” similar to those created in the United States, a large percentage of Mapuche suffered as a direct result of the looting of soldiers and the loss of land and livelihoods following the Chilean absorption of the Araucanía Region.
The reclamation of historical land rights has continued to be a major struggle for the Mapuche community. Individuals are often in the news for a range of crimes, primarily destruction of property, arson and aggression against police. Many attacks are targeted at the forestry companies and farmers currently operating on formerly Mapuche lands.
Those caught or accused of participating in these crimes are often charged under the anti-terrorism law, first put in place by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have been critical of the Chilean government’s treatment of Mapuche prisoners, citing instances of torture and mistreatment. Mapuche political prisoners frequently engage in long hunger strikes as a means of protest or to generate awareness.
Source: The Santiago Times