Gabriel Boric won the December 2021 presidential election and, despite a highly polarized campaign, his opponent rapidly recognized the results.
In 2020, Chileans overwhelmingly supported writing a new constitution, but in September 2022 rejected the draft written by a constitutional convention. As of October, political parties were in negotiations to initiate a new constituent process.
Both the presidential election and the constitutional process respected democratic principles, which stood out in a hemisphere where political leaders have tried to undermine democracy in recent years.
Authorities have taken initial steps to reform the national police but have yet to make crucial changes to the disciplinary system and protocols.
Chile faces important human rights challenges regarding migrants, refugees, women, children, Indigenous people, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
The Boric administration has consistently promoted human rights abroad, regardless of the ideology of the government committing the abuses.
Massive protests over deficiencies in the provision of public services, an increase in the price of public transportation, and economic inequality erupted across Chile in October 2019. Police used excessive force against demonstrators and bystanders.
As an “institutional exit” from the crisis, political parties then agreed to consult the citizenry on a constituent process.
In 2020, an overwhelming majority of Chileans voted to establish a convention to write a new constitution; in May 2021, under a unique convention framework set by Congress that included gender parity and almost 10 percent of reserved seats for Indigenous people, voters selected representatives.
In July 2022, the convention presented the draft of a new constitution, which included protection for many rights. It also made important changes to the justice system and presidential powers, and restructured the legislative branch.
On September 4, almost 62 percent of voters rejected the draft constitution. That night, President Boric called on Congress and civil society to agree on a new constituent process. As of October, political parties were in negotiations to initiate a new constituent process.
Hundreds of complaints of use of excessive force against protesters and ill-treatment of detainees since 2019 prompted calls for police reform but have not yet led to structural changes.
Chile’s national police, the Carabineros, have updated various public-order protocols, including on use of anti-riot shotguns. However, deficiencies remain, leaving ample room for abuse.
Chile’s laws granting the Carabineros broad powers of detention, which they exercise with very little oversight, have not been amended. Studies based on official data show that carabineros may have used these powers in a discriminatory way for years, targeting migrants, women, and people living in poverty.
A legal reform that went into effect in February 2022 included some measures of transparency and civilian oversight but did not overhaul the Carabineros’ disciplinary regime, which fails to guarantee independent and impartial investigations.
In August, the Boric administration established a police reform commission—made up of cabinet members, undersecretaries, and carabineros—and a reform advisory unit—made up of congresspeople, governors, mayors, nongovernmental organizations, and experts. The objective is to advance efficiency, transparency and probity, a gender and human rights approach to policing, and full subordination of police to civilian authorities.
As of July 2021, 1,433 administrative investigations of carabineros for involvement in “acts of violence” had resulted in 158 disciplinary sanctions, including the firing of 22 police.
By April 2022, the Attorney General’s Office had reported only 16 convictions from 8,581 investigations of police abuses allegedly committed from October 2019 through March 2020.
Migrants and Asylum Seekers’ Rights
Chile hosts some 1.4 million migrants, particularly Venezuelans, Peruvians, and Haitians.
Between 2010 and 2021, authorities reported granting only 701 of almost 22,000 applications for refugee status and rejecting around 7,000. Migration policies since 2019 have made it increasingly difficult for many people to obtain visas or asylum. A series of 2021 rulings by the Supreme Court and appeals courts exposed violations of due process in hundreds of deportations and ordered those deportations to be stopped.
Under an immigration law that took effect in February 2022, illegal entry is not a crime. Yet the law allows immediate expulsion of migrants who cross or attempt to cross the border, raising due process concerns.
Collective expulsions of people already living in Chile, carried out during the administration of former President Sebastián Piñera (2018-22), stopped during Boric’s administration. The National Migration Service said it continues to deport individuals “who have committed a crime and have a criminal record.”
In February, then-President Piñera declared a state of emergency in four northern provinces to control irregular immigration, stationing troops near the border with Bolivia and Perú. At President Boric’s request, Congress approved an extension of the state of emergency but Boric let it expire in April, while maintaining heavy military presence in the border areas.
Also in March, President Boric called for a regional plan to respond to Venezuelan migration, proposing a quota system.
Seven migrants died crossing the high-altitude border from Bolivia to Chile from January through July.
Anti-migrant protests and xenophobic attacks continued during 2022, forcing some migrants out of Chile.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
Chile’s 28-year total abortion ban ended in 2017, when the Constitutional Court upheld a law decriminalizing abortion when the life of a pregnant person is at risk, the fetus is non-viable, or a pregnancy results from rape. As of September 5, official statistics showed 320 people had received legal abortions in 2022.
Health facilities impose unnecessary hurdles, including restrictive and discretionary interpretations of exceptions to the ban. Around 50 percent of public health obstetricians have registered as conscientious objectors and refuse to perform abortions in cases of rape. Private hospitals and clinics can also register as conscientious objectors.
The rejected draft of a new constitution established that the state should ensure access to abortion. An Ipsos survey in 2021 showed over 70 percent of Chileans support legalizing abortion in some or all circumstances.
The group Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women reported 35 victims of femicide from January through early September 2022, compared to 29 reported by the government. Since 2020, the law no longer requires a relationship between the perpetrator and victim for a killing to be considered femicide.
One of President Boric’s first initiatives was to introduce a gender-balanced cabinet.
Long-standing conflict between the government and certain Mapuche Indigenous activists continues. Activists told Human Rights Watch that no government, including the Boric administration so far, has properly addressed core complaints regarding land rights, political representation, and security.
A state of emergency declared by former President Piñera in four southern provinces in 2021 expired in March 2022. President Boric declared a state of emergency, in May, in the same provinces, citing increasing violence and road blockades. As of October, the state of emergency remained.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In March, a law came into effect recognizing same-sex couples’ right to civil marriage, joint adoption, and assisted reproductive technology, among other rights. Data obtained by Fundación Iguales, a Chilean organization, indicates that 170 same-sex couples married during the law’s first month. As of September, the Civil Registry had registered 395 children of same-sex couples. Fundación Iguales cited problems with the implementation of the law, especially in the registration of children of same-sex couples, as well as with the excessive delay in the delivery of birth and marriage certificates.
After complaints of sexual exploitation and human rights violations in shelters for children separated from their families, the National Service for Minors (SENAME) underwent structural reforms. In 2021, a new National Specialized Protection Service for Children and Adolescents took over SENAME’s child protection programs. Passage, in September 2022, of a bill creating a National Youth Social Reintegration Service—to reintegrate into society children in conflict with the law—will allow closure of SENAME once the president signs it into law. The bill also requires Chile to create a specialized juvenile justice system, with expert prosecutors, judges, and defenders.
Human Rights Watch found that Aprendo en Línea, an online learning product used by the Education Ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic, used an invasive technique that captured information and transmitted children’s personal data to an advertising technology company. As of September, the Education Ministry had failed to stop the children’s violation of privacy.
Chile’s laws strip many people with disabilities of their legal capacity, including by providing for full guardianship, and use derogatory language. In August, members of the Chamber of Deputies presented a bill to replace “crazy and insane,” in the Criminal Code, with “people with psychosocial disability,” but failed to address restrictions on legal capacity.
The rejected draft constitution included provisions protecting rights of people with disabilities, including to enjoy legal capacity.
Prison Conditions and Pretrial Detention
The prison population increased more than 10 percent in a year, surpassing 43,000 people as of August 2022, about 3 percent above the facilities’ capacity.
Thirty-seven percent of detainees awaited trial, as of August. Chile’s criminal code allows broad use of pretrial detention and does not establish a maximum period for it.
As of April 2021, the Attorney General’s Office had identified 570 criminal gangs operating inside prisons, which it considered a threat to other detainees. The office pledged, in September 2022, to work with the government and prison police to address crimes inside Chilean prisons.
Confronting Past Abuses
Chilean courts continue to try agents of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) for human rights abuses.
In June, former military officer Miguel Krassnoff and two former police officers were convicted in the 1975 homicide of a teacher. It was the 80th conviction for Krassnoff, who participated in the assault on the presidential house during the coup against former President Salvador Allende, and it raised his prison sentence to 900 years for crimes against humanity.
Key International Actors
President Boric has consistently criticized human rights abuses in other countries—including El Salvador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba–regardless of the political ideology of the government committing those abuses. He called the imprisonment of opposition candidates for Nicaragua’s 2021 elections “unacceptable.”
Chile signed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, committing to strengthen and expand paths toward safe legal migration and asylum.
In June, Chile ratified the Escazú Agreement, an international treaty protecting environmental defenders and guaranteeing rights related to the environment.
Chile and five other Latin American countries led the renewal of the mandate for the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela in October.
The same month, Chile was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.