Human Rights Developments
On May 30, the Supreme Court unanimously confirmed a prison sentence of seven years for Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda, a retired army general and former head of Chile's secret police, the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA), and a sentence of six years for Brig. Gen. Pedro Espinoza, Contreras's former deputy. These two had been convicted in 1993 by a special judge appointed by the Supreme Court to resolve the 1976 Washington, D.C., car-bombing murders of Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean defense minister, and U.S. citizen Ronni Moffitt. Contreras was finally incarcerated in Punta Peuco prison in the early hours of October 21. The Letelier-Moffitt case is the only one in which senior DINA officials_responsible for a widespread campaign of disappearances and political murders between 1973 and 1978_have been fully prosecuted or imprisoned.
On June 19, after three weeks of uncertainty in which police officials tried in vain to carry out an arrest order, the army discharged Espinoza, and an army escort took him to a prison constructed especially for military officers in Punta Peuco, on the outskirts of Santiago. It took almost five months for the court sentence on Contreras to be executed. On learning of his conviction, Contreras promised that he would "never spend a day in jail" and took refuge in his ranch in southern Chile. On June 13, after police received authorization to arrest him there, army commandos working under cover of night spirited him away to the naval base in Talcahuano, where he was admitted to hospital allegedly suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, disorders from which he had not been known previously to suffer. Citing ill health, Contreras's attorneys launched a series of appeals against his imprisonment, prompting a sequence of medical examinations. Finally, Contreras underwent a hernia operation at the hospital, having received permission by the court to begin serving his sentence there. When his doctors had pronounced him fit and all further avenues of appeal had been exhausted, Contreras finally joined Espinoza in prison on October 21.
In response to the civil-military crisis, right-wing opposition parties, which have historically rejected concerns about human rights issues stemming from Pinochet's military rule (1973-90), pressed for a new law to interpret the 1978 amnesty that provided immunity from punishment for human rights violations committed between 1973 and 1978. Opposition senators introduced a bill in July proposing what amounted to a "full stop law," a deadline for judicial investigations into human rights cases. The bill would make it easier for courts to close unresolved human rights cases by requiring that they need only establish the type and date of the human rights violation that took place to mandate the permanent closure of the case. In recent years, trial-level courts have made significant advances in the opposite direction, including reopening human rights cases and prosecuting suspected human rights violators.
At issue was the ability of Chilean courts to investigate human rights violations and prosecute perpetrators, which the Supreme Court itself threw into further question. The amnesty clearly made punishing human rights violators impossible but did not definitively address investigations and prosecutions. Trial-level courts had previously considered disappearance cases open pending confirmation of the fate of the victim. In August, however, the Supreme Court ordered the final closure of the case of the 1976 disappearance of Joel Huaquiñir Benavides, a Socialist Party leader. The court ruled that Huanquiñir be legally considered deceased from the time of his disappearance, even though his fate remained unknown. By November, the Supreme Court had confirmed the application of the amnesty law to seven other cases, and its president, Roberto Dávila, indicated publicly that the court would shortly close the remaining cases before it.
In response to the proposed bill to "reinterpret" the amnesty, the government countered with a proposal of its own. In an unusually frank television address to the nation on August 21, President Eduardo Frei stressed that the Letelier-Moffitt case had brought Chile face to face with the limitations of its democracy and that the truth about past human rights violations, especially disappearances, had to be confronted for national reconciliation to be possible.
After his speech, Frei presented three bills to parliament, the first dealing with human rights investigations and the second and third with constitutional reforms aimed at phasing out military restrictions on the full exercise of democracy. The human rights bill promised to streamline court investigations, but its general effect would be to reinforce and extend the negative effects of the amnesty law by offering to keep secret the identity of human rights violators in exchange for information about the fate of the "disappeared". The bill would mandate the appointment of superior court judges devoted for two years exclusively to disappearance cases. The judges would receive special investigative powers, including access to classified documents, military installations, and police stations, which are normally off-limits for members of the civilian judiciary. Judges would also take over all cases currently filed in military courts. Cases could be closed finally only if the judges were able to establish either the physical whereabouts of the victims' remains, or the fact of their death. However, to accomplish this, the identities of military suspects would be protected permanently in exchange for their testimony.
Other bills introduced by Frei would reduce some, but not all, of the military privileges left in place by the army when Pinochet left the presidency in 1990. With respect to human rights, they would restore the president's power to retire military officials, which could be used to remove human rights violators from service even if they could not be tried in the courts. Human Rights Watch/Americas encouraged a review under these provisions of cases such as those of Brig. Miguel Krasnoff Marchenko and Lt. Col. Fernando Laureani Maturana, former DINA agents directly implicated in several cases of disappearance in 1974. At this writing, Krasnoff was on active service in Santiago and Laureani was serving in a regiment in the northern city of Iquique.
In early November, President Frei announced on television that the government had made significant concessions to the right-wing opposition. Cases would only be opened at the express wish of relatives, those in military courts would not be transferred to civilian judges, and the grounds on which judges could close cases were relaxed. In an open letter to the Chilean Congress, Human Rights Watch/Americas criticized the government's failure to establish clear norms ensuring that cases were kept open until the fate of the victims had been determined. The congressional debate on the proposals was continuing as of this writing.
While past military abuses received considerable national attention, ongoing abuses by Chile's police forces did not, even though they continued to constitute a human rights problem in the country. Police, particularly the uniformed carabineros, operated without effective judicial control, often arbitrarily arresting, mistreating, or torturing detainees. Though Chilean police forces instituted internal mechanisms for investigating complaints of torture, their internal investigations rarely, if ever, led to successful court prosecutions. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch/Americas in July, officials of the Ministry of the Presidency and the Ministry of Justice failed to provide evidence that any police officers had been convicted of torture since the return to democracy, although the Ministry of Interior reported that courts received some sixty complaints of torture between March 1990 and October 1994. In July, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel S. Rodley visited Chile.
Although the government officially recognized the importance of freedom of expression, it continued to apply laws that limited this right, including the Law of State Security, which the former military government used to stifle political dissent. Police continued to arrest people for expression-related "crimes" under this law, and prosecutors based indictments on it. In January, both branches of the legislature voted to file a lawsuit, based on the law, against Francisco Javier Cuadra, a former Pinochet minister, because of remarks he made in the news magazine _Qué Pasa? In the interview, Cuadra said that he had information that "some parliamentarians and other persons holding public office take drugs." Members of parliament deemed the comment an affront to their honor. On June 19, police arrested Cuadra and took him to Capuchinos prison in Santiago. He was released on bond on July 7. In August, police jailed Chilean Socialist Youth leader Arturo Barrios, accused of violating the law, on charges of "insulting" General Pinochet. Two weeks later, Pinochet sued Christian Democrat Congressman Rodolfo Seguel under the same law for observing that "after well-irrigated lunches he [Pinochet] is wont to say stupid things."
The state also restricted freedom of expression in other ways. In August, the Supreme Court refused permission for Channel 7 television to interview Miguel Estay Reyno, a jailed former police undercover agent, who was believed to have information about the fate of the people who had disappeared during the military period. That same month, in an apparent case of self-censorship, a music video by the hit Argentine rock group Los Fabulosos Cadillacs was edited to delete an image of Pinochet. The video, titled "Mal Bicho" (Bad Bug), showed the general along with Argentine dictator Rafael Videla, Hitler, Mussolini, and Saddam Hussein. According to the Chilean newspaper La Epoca, Sony Music (Chile), which distributed the video, said that it received the version already cut from the company's Miami office and that the cut had been made to avoid problems with Chilean law.
The Right to Monitor
The Supreme Court ruling on the major issue of historic contention between the two governments, the Letelier-Moffitt case, motivated a brief official note of congratulations to the Chilean government. Although the Clinton administration was outspoken about the human rights implications of the Letelier-Moffitt case, the United States failed to voice concern about other human rights problems, including Chilean proposals to expand the amnesty law, justice for past human rights violations, current police abuses (including torture), and freedom of expression.
During 1995, the Chilean and United States militaries continued to expand their links. The U.S. continued to provide aid to the Chilean military for training in the United States and began to program military training for civilian members of Chile's defense management. The U.S. also transferred to the country excess military equipment, including a Landing Ship Tank (LST), trucks, and other vehicles. In 1995, for the first time since the 1976 Kennedy Amendment blocked U.S. military aid to Chile, the Chilean army participated in joint military exercises with the U.S. Southern Command. Congress had lifted the aid restriction in 1990.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) provided an estimated $3,598,000 in assistance to Chile, focused basically on administration of justice. The Agency for International Development's justice-related programs will end by 1996, when the AID Chile mission is expected to close down.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Americas
In July, the division's executive director visited Santiago to urge government officials to include greater human rights protections in its penal code and eliminate military jurisdiction over civilians. He and our Chile representative met with several high-level government officials. In August, on a second visit to study the Frei proposals on investigations into the disappearances covered by the amnesty law, they were received by the minister of the interior and other authorities, as well as members of human rights organizations.
In November, Human Rights Watch/Americas sent an open letter to members of the Chilean Congress urging them not to approve measures that would prevent a full clarification of the truth in each case and criticizing Frei's proposals on secrecy as an extension of the effects of the amnesty law of 1978.
We also continued to cooperate with intergovernmental human rights bodies to promote human rights in Chile in other ways: by providing information to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture during his visit to Santiago and by continuing to litigate several cases on behalf of relatives of the disappeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In hearings before the commission, we argued that Chile had a duty to investigate these human rights violations and prosecute those responsible. We also argued the case of Francisco Martorell, a Chilean journalist whose book, Impunidad diplomática (Diplomatic Impunity), was published in Argentina in 1994 and banned in Chile.