UN hails Chile’s anti-discrimination law, damns treatment of Mapuche

By Sam Edwards
Published On: Wed, Jan 29th, 2014

Human Rights Council commends measures to curtail discrimination but denounces anti-terrorism law and ban on therapeutic abortion in periodic peer review.

Black-and-white photo of a group of Mapuches carrying Olympic-style torches

The UN says Chile’s anti-terrorism law is used disproportionately against indigenous Mapuches. Photo by Cosmopolita / Flickr

Legalization of therapeutic abortion and in cases of rape, penalization of excessive police force during protests and the protection of the rights of minority groups were among the recommendations of a U.N. working group that assessed the Chile’s human rights landscape in Geneva Tuesday.

A government delegation presented a report to members of the Human Rights Council (HRC) documenting progress and difficulties in the field of human rights, before receiving recommendations from peer states as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) — Chile’s second, the first in conducted in May 2009.

Among the achievements presented by the delegation — led by Social Development Minister Bruno Baranda — were the introduction of a law protecting association and citizen bodies and the creation of the independent regulatory body the Human Rights Institute (Indh) in 2009, an advancement noted by the working group. The U.N. council, in turn, commended the introduction of the Indh but recommended the government do more to guarantee justice for victims of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

Also in the delegation were minister and spokesman for the Supreme Court Hugo Dolmetsch, Indh director Lorena Fries and Justice Minister Juan Ignacio Piña.

Fries said that handling of the Mapuche conflict was a particular worry for the U.N. body.

“Several governments, including the U.S., called on Chile to stop applying the anti-terrorism law, others suggested reforming it, Fries told La Tercera. “The process of returning land to indigenous groups was also criticized and the government found lacking. And [the working group] spoke of the need to increase political participation of indigenous communities, so they’re not simply referred to at consultations.”

Baranda claimed initial steps taken toward greater indigenous representation would, once approved and implemented, allow for constitutional recognition of groups such as the Mapuche, a long-term demand.

“Chile is conscious of its historic debt to its indigenous people,” he said, but the delegation defended the use of anti-terrorism legislation, saying figures refuted claims it has been applied discriminatorily to Mapuche activism.

“What we want to make clear is that the use of the anti-terrorism law is completely exceptional,” Piña told members of the HRC.

His comments were contested by Pedro Cayuqueo, journalist and member of National Network of Mapuche Professionals (Enama), who was also in Geneva.

“In Chile the anti-terrorism law is used to persecute Mapuche social activists. U.N. representative Ben Emmerson confirmed it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Human rights non-profit Observatorio Ciudadano concurred, highlighting the use of anti-terrorism legislation — alongside the implementation of national measures to prevent torture, also recommended by the working group — as key issues to be tackled.

“Without doubt, these are two of the most important and most sensitive issues that the state needs to tackle and resolve,” Observatorio Ciudadano coordinator José Araya said.

Araya added that theirs was one of 16 civil organizations to present alternative reports to the U.N. Working Group — a fact he identified as a clear indicator of scarce progress and possibly a deterioration in several areas related to human rights.

The passing of anti-discrimination legislation last year — prompted in large part by the brutal murder of gay youth Daniel Zamudio in 2012 — was well received by the committee who noted in consensus the significant progress made in this area. Fries, however, observed some criticism was reserved for the definition of discrimination which is more restrictive than that of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

Of particular concern was Chile’s uncompromising stance on abortion, criminalizing the procedure even in cases of rape or potential health complications for mother or baby.

But in this instance, the government delegation was inflexible, saying protection of life from conception until natural death would remain a pillar of future policy, echoing its response to similar criticism in 2009.

Director of Amnesty International Chile, Ana Piquer, restated the organization’s opposition to the policy of complete criminalization of abortion, an increasing point of contention over the last year and the focus of numerous public protests.

“We hope that, this time around, as even more governments made these recommendations, Chile will finally recognize the sexual and reproductive rights of girls and women are human rights and should, therefore, be respected and guaranteed,” Piquer said.

Source: The Santiago Times (includes image of Pedro Cayuqueo's twitter post)

Back to top