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Chile: Mapuche Acquitted a Second Time

(Temuco, Chile) — The acquittal in southern Chile of five Mapuche defendants and a non-Mapuche sympathizer who were charged under Chile’s antiterrorism law is a victory for justice, Human Rights Watch and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Watch said today.

At the trial, which ended today, a court in Temuco ruled two to one to reject charges of illicit terrorist association brought against the defendants, members of an indigenous community affected by longstanding land conflicts.

“The Chilean government should take careful note of today’s verdict and stop using the country’s antiterrorism law in cases for which it clearly is inapplicable,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch.

The Temuco criminal court concluded that the evidence did not prove the existence of an illicit terrorist association. The six defendants were accused of forming an illegal association to plan and commit acts of terrorism in order to resolve land conflicts in favor of the Mapuche. Most of the alleged crimes were against property and none posed a direct threat to life.

“The court’s decision demonstrates that the accusations of terrorism against the Mapuche formulated by the attorney general’s office and the interior ministry in recent years were unfounded,” said José Aylwin, director of the Chilean nongovernmental organization Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Watch.

Today’s decision marks the second time a trial court has rejected charges of illicit terrorist association brought against the defendants. In November 2004, a different panel of judges on the Temuco Oral Criminal Court unanimously acquitted these six defendants, as well as two others, finding that the evidence was too weak to sustain a verdict of illicit terrorist association. In April, Chile’s Supreme Court annulled the acquittal on the grounds that the trial court failed to specify why it had rejected prosecution evidence. The case then proceeded to the retrial that ended today.

Human Rights Watch and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Watch have opposed the unjustified and disproportionate application of antiterrorism laws. In a joint report published on October 27, 2004, the two organizations argued that harsh antiterrorism laws cover crimes of exceptional seriousness and should never be applied to common crimes like those in this case.

In the trial that just ended, the prosecution called some “faceless witnesses”: witnesses whose identities are concealed from the defendants and their lawyers. Special procedures such as the use of faceless witnesses are provided for by Chile’s antiterrorism law.

The report by Human Rights Watch and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Watch described how the use of “faceless witnesses” violates international norms on due process. It also pointed out that the use of such procedures, designed to tackle terrorist violence, is wholly unjustified when dealing with crimes attributed to the Mapuche that are mostly against property.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people have recommended that Chile’s antiterrorism law not be used in the context of the Mapuche land conflict.

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