The Chilean authorities should carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the alleged unlawful use of force by police against members of the Mapuche indigenous community, Human Rights Watch said today. Officers found responsible for any unlawful use of force should be held to account and the injured civilians ensured an effective remedy.
In two incidents on July 23, 2012, Caribineros police shot rubber bullets at members of the Ignacio Queipul community of Temucuicui, in Ercilla in southern Chile. The rubber bullets wounded four children and several adults.
“The use of rubber bullets is acceptable only in very limited situations when law enforcement must confront violence and other less violent means can’t be used or don’t work,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The circumstances of these shootings as they are known, including the fact that children were involved, strongly suggest that the use of rubber bullets in this case was not justified.”
The first shooting occurred as Carabineros police were evicting community members from land they had occupied in Ercilla, wounding as many as 12 people, according to press accounts, including a 12-year-old boy.
Later that day, Carabineros fired rubber bullets at a group of Mapuches outside a hospital in Collipulli where detainees who had been injured during the earlier police action were receiving medical attention. According to a complaint filed by a witness from the Defensoria Penal Mapuche, a state body that assists in the legal defense of Mapuches, Carabineros stationed outside the hospital entrance opened fire at short range, without provocation or warning, on Mapuches who had come to visit the injured. Seven people, including a 13-year-old girl and two 17-year-old boys, were wounded.
A senior police official later stated that the Mapuches had been armed with stones and sticks and had tried to rescue detainees as they were being moved from the hospital to a police bus parked outside the hospital.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. When use of force is unavoidable law enforcement must exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved; and shall minimize damage and injury.
In addition to the shootings during the eviction, 12 people including three girls under age 12, were allegedly hit, insulted, and sexually harassed by Carabineros while being transported from the scene in a police bus, according to witness statements reported in the news media and allegations received by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
A military prosecutor will investigate the complaint filed by the representative of the Defensoria Penal Mapuche. Despite recent reforms of the system of military justice, under Chilean law cases involving alleged crimes by Carabineros on active duty are subject to the jurisdiction of military courts. Such military courts do not meet international standards of independence and impartiality.
In past cases involving the shooting of Mapuches during police operations, cases have either resulted in acquittals or sentences have been extremely lenient. As a result, an investigation within the military jurisdiction does not meet the standard of an effective remedy for victims, as required by international law, Human Rights Watch said.
“The injuries and alleged harassment warrant a thorough and impartial investigation, and any police officers found to have used excessive force should be held accountable,” Vivanco said. “Unfortunately, the fact that these cases will be handled by military courts is not conducive to justice for the victims.”