July 24, 2007

Letter to Bachelet and Senior Officials Calls on Chile to Stop Police Discrimination

A letter addressed to President Michelle Bachelet from a group of international NGOs urged the president last week to investigate reports of police abuse in the Mapuche towns of Region IX. The group wanted Bachelet to arrange an “ad-hoc commission” to investigate and sanction those responsible for human rights abuses, as well as to repair the damage caused.

The NGO Observatory on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ODPI) spearheaded the initiative.

The letter called for an official inquiry into incidents of “institutionalized racism” centered on the community of Temucuicui. It also asks for a progress report on government responses to various recommendations made in 2003 by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, UN special rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples.

As recently as January of this year Chile was implicated in human rights abuses by a UN Human Rights Committee.

The signatories to the letter – including Amnesty International (AI), Norwegian People’s Aid and Center for Legal Studies of Argentina – claimed that, despite pressure from the UN, the plight of Chile’s rural indigenous population has remained unchanged.

Their latest complaints were drawn up after a group of delegates went to Ercilla and Temucuicui last January. After meeting with high-level police officials and talking with members of the communities, the group reached the conclusion that all the UN recommendations had fallen on authorities’ deaf ears.

“The mission found multiple situations that, by its judgment, constituted serious human rights violations and that racism in state institutions is clearly perceptible in the cases of verbal and physical abuse against the Mapuches,” said the report.

The group noted cases of unlawful entry, restriction of right to free movement, the permanent presence of plainclothes officers in these communities, and the destruction and illegal appropriation of goods and historical documents proving ancestral rights.
The report also described expressions of racism, discriminatory healthcare treatment, excessive use of force by the Attorney General’s office in investigating Mapuches, and the harassment of human rights advocates through clandestine methods and burglary of documents.

Additionally, in March of this year, an annual AI report on human rights emphasized the harsh police treatment of Chile’s indigenous people as a persistent problem.

That report detailed a July 2006 raid of a Mapuche community in Malleco Province (Region IX), where police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition on unarmed community members. As a pretext for the raid, police said they were in search of stolen animals. By year’s end, the raid had yet to be investigated by authorities (ST, March 24).

AI also noted that in December police fired on Mapuche workers collecting their salaries in the city of Ercilla. The attack left six people injured.

José Aylwin, co-director of ODPI, considered it “paradoxical” that the government has not intervened in a categorical and concise manner to put an end to the situation.

“The government has been warned that this type of situation is continuing. Now, it is very sad that the charges leveled by these very communities and human rights groups like the ODPI have not brought any results,” said Aylwin. “There is evident racial discrimination of which the state is complicit (...) if the rights of the most vulnerable are not protected, we will study possible actions before international venues, because we believe that these types of acts cannot continue occurring in a constitutionally democratic state.”

Although the Mapuches receive much international support, their plights receive little mainstream press.

By Mike Hager (