Jan. 8, 2008
The influential human rights organization Families of the Detained and Disappeared (AFDD) is calling on Chile to withdraw its bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
By Benjamin Witte

AFDD’s demand comes in the wake of last week’s police killing of a young Mapuche activist. On Thursday, Jan. 3 Carabineros shot Universidad de la Frontera agronomy student Matías Valentín Catrileo Quezada, 22, while he and some 30 other Mapuche activists temporarily occupied a privately-owned farm in Region IX (ST, Jan. 4, 6).

“We demand that Chile withdraw its application to the U.N. Human Rights Council, that the president ask for the resignations of the appropriate officials and that a civilian (rather than military) court be placed in charge of investigating and this latest crime,” the human rights group urged in a press release.

As the Carabineros police force is technically part of Chile’s armed forces, the murder case is expected to be handled by a military court. A similar incident occurred in 2005 when police killed a 17-year-old unarmed Mapuche boy named Alex Lemún. The officer who pulled the trigger, Marcos Treuer, was never convicted and continues to work as a member of the Carabineros.

“When a country that went through a dictatorship that systematically violated human rights returns to democracy…there ought to be a strict focus on protecting the right to life, which was the right that was most vulnerable during the dictatorship,” AFDD Vice President Mireya Garcia told the Santiago Times.

“But in the last two years, two people have died as a result of police oppression,” she added. “In other words, something isn’t right. Something isn’t working. The concept of the rule of law is being used to repress, not to protect lives… In this sense, it seems to us that Chile has lost any claim to legitimacy it may have had to form part of the U.N. Council.”

The second victim Garcia referred to was Rodrigo Cisternas, a forestry worker who was killed last year during a labor demonstration (ST, May 7, 2007). Cisternas was driving a backhoe, apparently with the intent to overturn a police car.

The AFDD is by no means the first NGO to criticize Chile’s UNHRC ambitions. In an interview last September, Paula Acevedo, the coordinator of a nationwide campaign to promote indigenous rights and culture, told the Santiago Times that Chile’s involvement in the U.N. body would be counterproductive.

“Chile has maintained repressive internal policies, maintains a constitution inherited from a dictator… has not found out the truth about Chile’s disappeared detainees, has not given due compensation to those who were tortured, is trying to create a Human Rights Institute that has no judicial power whatsoever, has not included human rights in the country’s school curriculums, and does not guarantee social justice,” she said.

Chile President Michelle Bachelet began lobbying for the UNHRC seat in earnest last year after Venezuela announced unexpectedly that it would not seek a spot on the Council. There are three seats available to Latin American countries. Brazil and Argentina are also reportedly interested in becoming UNHRC members (ST, Sept. 26, 2007).

By Benjamin Witte (