UN Committee pushes for land reform in Chile


After reviewing the state of racial discrimination in the country, UN urges Chile to take faster action regarding indigenous issues including land repatriation.

Just a month after U.N. official Ben Emmerson warned of an ever worsening relationship between Chile’s indigenous populations and the national and local authorities, the international body released another report calling on the country to change its ways.

The Mapuche land movement found support in the latest report from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Photo by Carol Crisosto Cadiz / flickr

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed Chile this past month during its 83rd session as part of the routine cycle of country reports. The group of experts looked at the treatment of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Chilean population and the Roma community, as well as its indigenous peoples. 

After hearing from a wide array of NGOs and studying documents submitted by the government, the committee published a set of observations and recommendations for Chile.

Although the final report recognized progress on the issue of racial discrimination in the country via various new or improved laws such as the anti-discrimination law, the criminalization of migrant trafficking and the creation of the National Institute for Human Rights (INDH), it focused far more heavily on ongoing concerns and pressing issues that Chile must deal with.

Among the 12 recommendations laid out in the report were calls to improve the capabilities of the INDH, to streamline the census and other national statistics with an eye to minority self-identification, to revise the legal definitions of discrimination and the penalties for it and to increase the presence of indigenous languages in schools.

The CERD also took a stand when it comes to ancestral lands and the controversial use of the anti-terrorism law against the indigenous Mapuche people. This issue is a central part of the continued hostilities in the Araucanía Region marked by arson and violent clashes between police and indigenous protesters. 

“The Committee is concerned that the National Indigenous Commission’s (CONADI) mechanism of public competition for the return of lands prevents many members of indigenous peoples access to their ancestral lands,” the report said.

“In addition, the Committee notes with concern that representatives for the indigenous peoples regret that land handed over in exchange for ancestral lands, even in nearby areas, have often proved unprofitable and difficult to take advantage of and that they do not come within a comprehensive strategy of restoration of rights,” it added.

Its recommendations were similar to Emmerson’s. They call on Chile to speed up the repatriation process and to genuinely honor the agreements made between the indigenous community and the national government.

The criticisms of the anti-terrorism legislation also mirrored the earlier critique, raising concerns over the disproportionate use of the law against Mapuche individuals in cases involving “acts that occurred in the context of claims for their rights, including over their ancestral lands,” and “the improper and excessive use of force against members of Mapuche communities, including children, women and elderly.” It also brought up the issue of impunity for local authorities involved in the violent clashes between police and protesters.

Chile was once again called on to stop using the anti-terrorism law against Mapuche land-protestors and to reevaluate the law and its overall application. The CERD also recommended that the government investigate cases of abuse of the law brought by indigenous groups, particularly the Mapuche and the Rapa Nui of Easter Island. 

When this recommendation was made in July by Emmerson, Chile’s Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick was quick to defend the country’s anti-terrorism legislation and its use in the southern regions against the Mapuche. He reiterated that it was approved by Congress and that the country faces a very real terrorist problem.

Source: The Santiago Times

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