Demonstrators run from police launching water canons and tear gas as a state of emergency remains in effect in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Esteban Felix
(Washington, D.C.) – The government of Chile should ensure that its security forces respect fundamental rights while containing sometimes violent ongoing protests, Human Rights Watch said today. Chilean authorities should investigate and hold accountable both demonstrators who committed serious crimes and acts of violence as well as members of security forces who responded with excessive force.

Starting on October 18, 2019, thousands of Chileans took to the streets to protest the government’s announcement that it would increase the price of public transportation. The protests broadened to reflect anger over living costs and inequality, leading to days of unrest. On October 19, President Sebastian Piñera declared a state of emergency in several locations, restricting people’s movements.

“We are deeply concerned by the images of instances of police brutality coming out of Chile,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “President Piñera should make clear to Chilean security forces that they need to respect human rights and ensure that agents implicated in abuses are promptly and impartially investigated.”

Interior Undersecretary Rodrigo Ubilla said on October 22 that 2,643 people had been detained and that 15 people had died since the protests began. The official National Human Rights Institute reported that 84 people had been injured by firearms between October 17 and 21. Some of the injured had been shot with bullets or pellets in the face, neck, or head, based on accounts by medical professionals to a local group.

The Attorney General’s office confirmed that a member of the military was detained for his alleged participation in killing a 25-year-old man. He was shot in the chest during demonstrations in Curicó, where there is no state of emergency, on October 21.

Images circulated by credible sources show members of the military beating protesters already under arrest and a man who appeared to be just standing on the street, as well as a man being thrown out of the back of an official van while it was moving.

Some protesters have acted very violently, vandalizing metro stations and setting fire to an electrical company building and offices of El Mercurio newspaper in Valparaiso.

“Prosecutors should also carry out prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into serious crimes committed by demonstrators in recent days,” Vivanco said.