07 March 2005
Chilean Mapuche minority charges government with human rights violations.
By Victoria Cavaliere

Chile's largest indigenous group, the Mapuche, has asked the Organization of American States to look into alleged violations of its human rights by the Chilean government. The group says Chile is improperly using anti-terrorism laws against them.

Mapuche representatives, who visited Washington recently, said they were petitioning the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to alert the international community to what they call the persecution of the Mapuche people.

The Mapuche and the Chilean government have clashed for nearly two-centuries over land and the indigenous group's desire for autonomy in the country's south. The Mapuche, which means "people of the land" were the first inhabitants of the area that today makes-up parts of Chile and Argentina.

Adolfo Millabur, the mayor of the town of Tirua, says Chile's 1.2 million Mapuche make up about 10-percent of the population, but have been declared an enemy of the state. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the Chilean government treats the minority as terrorists. "And they have been applying against us anti-terrorism laws and the laws of state security with the objective of silencing or annihilating the Mapuche people," he said.

Mr. Millabur says the Mapuche community has been subjected to police brutality and what he says are illegal arrests. He also cited the killing of a 17-year-old activist, Alex Lemun, who was shot by Chilean police during a 2002 land protest. The Chilean government says the shooting occurred during clashes between protesters and police.

A lawyer representing the Mapuche, Nancy Yanez, has told the OAS the government's use of the harsh security laws is illegal. Speaking through an interpreter, she said the legislation, enacted under former dictator Augusto Pinochet, is now being used to crackdown on the Mapuche movement. "The right to due process has been violated…referring specifically to the anti-terrorism laws which were developed during the dictatorship but are being applied during times of democracy," he said.

The Chilean government says that Mapuche activists have engaged in terrorist acts to induce fear, like the arson of government and private property.

The OAS says it is reviewing the Mapuche's petition and will follow-up by asking for a response from the Chilean government. Under its rules, a state has 90-days to respond. If the OAS feels more investigation is needed after Chile submits its response, an onsite survey would likely be conducted.

The Mapuche leaders say they hope the OAS will encourage the Chilean government to recognize the group's land rights and grant amnesty to Mapuche prisoners.