Chile — 28 September 2016

by

Cameron Ridgway

28 September 2016.  Concepción, Chile.

The Carabineros, Chile’s national police force, have long held a reputation as one of the most trusted in Latin America.

That may all be about to change, however. A report published by the Medical College of Chile on Sunday revealed evidence of 101 acts of torture committed by officers between 2011 and 2016.

The college’s Department of Human Rights, which conducted the investigation, defined torture as any deliberate action committed by an officer “with the intention of causing strong physical or mental pain”.

The Revelations

The incidents mentioned in the report took place either during detention or in a police vehicle. Recorded victims were aged between 14 and 74 and came from a variety of social backgrounds.

Torture methods that were found to be used include asphyxiation with plastic bags and waterboarding.

The report also details accusations of violent and abusive behavior, including removing children’s clothes, heavy beatings and attacks on the genitals of prisoners.

Marta Cisterna, from the Chilean Commission on the Observation of Human Rights, revealed that the allegations in the new report related to incidents in Santiago and Providencia and were made both by officers and members of the public.

On the Rise

Eighteen of the reported cases took place in 2011, falling to twelve in the following year. 36 cases reported took place during 2013, making this by far the worst year as the number fell again to 11 in 2014 and 10 in 2015 respectively.

The number of cases this year already looks set to be much higher. To date 21 allegations of police torture have been reported.

In spite of this rise, Karina Soza, a lawyer for the Carabineros, told the Pan Am Post that the public should continue to trust and have confidence in the police. She reiterated that the Carabineros condemned the use of such practices and wanted to put an end to such violent behavior.

Seeking Justice

Cases of Human Rights violations involving the Carabineros are currently dealt with by the military courts, who determine their credibility and decide whether to sentence.

Concerns about this system were raised in August 2011 after then-Sergeant Manuel Millacura was found guilty of causing the death of 16 year old Manuel Gutierrez at a union protest in Santiago after attacking him while trying to disperse the demonstration.

The military court handling the case initially sentenced Millacura to three years and one day in prison. This was later reduced to a 400 days after the court determined that Gutierrez’s death was a result of criminal negligence rather than a willful act of unnecessary violence.

The family of Manuel Gutierrez later unsuccessfully appealed the decision at Chile’s Supreme Court and have since joined a growing number of voices campaigning for reform of Chile’s military justice system.

The Chilean branch of Amnesty International, along with other NGOs and some lawyers, argue that human rights cases involving the Carabineros should be tried by civilian courts instead of the military system to ensure fairness and impartiality.

The UN has also recommended that Chile instigates reform of its military courts. While both the Bachelet government and the military have promised changes, they have not yet been implemented.

For these new revelations to be viewed as being taken seriously by the Chilean government, judicial reform may be just what is needed.

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