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Events of 2023

A man is detained by Chilean Police after he blocked the highway on the Chile-Peru border, near Arica, Chile, May 2, 2023, in a protest by migrants against the closing of the border, which left them stranded.

© 2023 AP Photo/Agustin Mercado

Chile has been working toward a new constitution since massive demonstrations in 2019 called for reform. In 2022, voters rejected a draft written by a constitutional convention, and in 2023, they rejected a new draft developed by a constitutional council. President Gabriel Boric said his administration would not attempt to develop another draft.

Although Chile still has one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, murders have increased in recent years, and crime is a major concern for Chileans.

Chile’s laws and policies make it very difficult for migrants and asylum seekers to obtain legal status, pushing them to remain outside the law. In February, the government placed the armed forces in charge of patrolling the northern border, a hot spot for irregular migration.

President Boric has consistently promoted human rights abroad, regardless of the political ideology of the government committing the abuses.

Constituent Process

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 agreed to consult the citizenry on steps toward a new constitution.

In 2020, Chileans voted overwhelmingly to establish a convention to write the new constitution. However, in September 2022, almost 62 percent of voters rejected the convention’s draft. In December 2022, political parties agreed to a new drafting process.

In January 2023, Congress created an expert commission to work on a new draft that was reviewed by a constitutional council with a conservative majority, which was elected by voters. The draft advanced the protection of environmental and some other rights but also included a broad right to conscientious objection that could be abused to deny access to certain human rights and provided for the expulsion of migrants with irregular status “as soon as possible.”

In December more than 55 percent of voters rejected the council’s draft. President Gabriel Boric said “the constitutional process is over” and called on political forces to reduce polarization and work within the framework of the current constitution to deliver on Chileans’ urgent needs.

Public Security and Police Reform

A July government report counted 1,322 murders in 2022, a 56 percent increase since 2018. The report combined data from various institutions for the first time. Although Chile still has one of the lowest murder rates in Latin America and the Caribbean—6.7 per 100,000 people—polls show that insecurity is one of Chileans’ main concerns.

During a 20-day period in March and April, three police officers were killed while on duty. In response, Congress approved a law establishing a legal presumption of self-defense for on-duty security force members who “repel or impede an attack” using weapons or any other means. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that Chilean law already allowed officers to defend themselves and that the new presumption of self-defense “reduces accountability, hindering access to justice for victims of potential abuses and favoring impunity.”

Chile has tried, with little success, to reform its national police, the Carabineros, since 2019, when police used excessive force against protesters and committed abuses against some detainees. Carabineros have updated various protocols, including on the use of anti-riot shotguns, but deficiencies still leave ample room for abuse. Laws granting Carabineros broad powers of detention, which they exercise with little oversight, have not been amended. Carabineros’ disciplinary regime fails to guarantee independent and impartial investigations. A commission established by President Boric in 2022 to work on police reform has met only a few times and, as of October, had showed no progress.

Migrants’ and Asylum Seekers’ Rights

Over 1.4 million foreigners (both Chilean citizens and noncitizens) live in Chile, representing 8 percent of the country’s population. They are mainly Venezuelans, followed by Peruvians, Haitians, and Colombians.

In February, for an initial period of 90 days, the Boric administration put the armed forces in charge of monitoring and detaining migrants crossing the northern border irregularly. This measure was extended three times and remained in force as of November. Security forces detained 13,256 people crossing irregularly from January through July, a significant drop compared to 23,012 during the same period in 2022, the Ministry of Interior reported.

Regularizing legal status is one of the most significant challenges for migrants and asylum seekers in Chile, affecting access to public services and formal jobs. Only 17 percent of Venezuelans had a permanent residence permit, according to a 2023 survey by a platform comprising over 200 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies. As of September, no regularization program existed for those who entered the country without papers.

Applying for asylum is difficult and few claims are granted. In practice, immigration officials enjoy wide discretion in deciding to whom they give an application form. From January 2010 through August 2023, only 797 of 28,900 applicants—under 3 percent—were granted asylum.

Between June and December, Chilean authorities biometrically registered foreigners over age 18 who had entered irregularly by land before May 30 to “strengthen security” and “identify those who live in Chile,” explicitly saying that this process implied “no regularization.” Migration experts have raised concerns that the data could be used to facilitate expulsions.

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 woman is at risk, the fetus is non-viable, or the pregnancy resulted from rape. Official statistics show that 831 people received legal abortions in 2022, and 407 did between January and September 2023.

Chile’s abortion law, as interpreted by a constitutional court decision, includes an overly broad exception for healthcare providers—individuals, companies, and institutions—to refuse to perform abortions based on conscientious objection. More than 40 percent of public health obstetricians were registered as conscientious objectors in 2022 and refused to perform abortions in cases of rape. Registered as conscientious objectors, six entire private hospitals and clinics refuse to perform any abortions, and a seventh health facility only performs them in cases of rape.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, Chile ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), which establishes state obligations to protect women from violence and harassment in the workforce.

Confronting Past Abuses

Chile commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup against former President Salvador Allende, amid high polarization about those events. President Boric, along with all living former presidents, signed a commitment to promote and defend human rights “regardless of political ideology.” All political parties in the Senate supported a declaration on the promotion of democracy and human rights while acknowledging the impossibility of a “common vision of history.”

During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), at least 3,200 people were killed or disappeared, by the official count. In August, the government launched a national search plan for victims of disappearance, guaranteeing participation and access to information for relatives and promising reparations and guarantees of non-repetition.

Disability Rights

People with disabilities can be deprived of their legal capacity under Chile’s civil legislation. People with disabilities suffer discrimination in employment and occupation, education, housing, and health care. People with disabilities cannot access all public buildings and transportation on an equal basis with others, particularly outside Santiago.

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

In June, President Boric created an expert commission to work on land rights solutions and reparations for Mapuche communities, which is expected to issue a report by the second half of 2024.

The state of emergency that President Boric declared in May 2022 in four provinces of southern Chile with a significant Mapuche population, citing increasing violence and roadblocks, continued as of October, with repeated congressional approval. Rural violence in that region diminished 11 percent from January through August, compared to the same period in 2022, while the number of arrests increased fourfold, the government reported.

Prison Conditions and Pretrial Detention

The prison population increased more than 18 percent in a year, surpassing 51,000 people as of September 2023, about 25 percent above facilities’ capacity. In May, the Justice Ministry warned that the “congestion” represented a challenge to infrastructure and penitentiary personnel capacities.

More than 100 children under 2 years old lived with their mothers in prisons, latest official data from 2019 shows. A bill that would temporarily suspend prison time for pregnant women and primary caregivers of small children until they turn 3 years old is stalled in Congress.

As of September, 37 percent of detainees awaited trial. Chile’s criminal code allows broad use of pretrial detention and does not establish a maximum period for it.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In March 2022, a law recognizing same-sex couples’ rights—including to civil marriage, joint adoption, and assisted reproductive technology—took effect. Fundación Iguales, an NGO, reported problems with the implementation of the law, including errors in the registration of children of same-sex couples, excessive delays in the delivery of birth and marriage certificates, and the issuing of outdated forms—such as birth certificates, proof-of-delivery-care, and educational matriculation documents that refer only to a “mother” and a “father”—in civil registries, hospitals, clinics, and schools.

Foreign Policy

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 governments. In September, he denounced a crackdown by the “dictatorial regime of [Daniel] Ortega and [Rosario] Murillo in Nicaragua, where [critics] are banned from participating in elections, persecuted, their nationalities taken, their houses searched, and their political rights taken.”

Throughout the electoral process in Guatemala, Chile expressed its concern about attempts by political actors and several government institutions to interfere with the election and urged respect for the people’s will. 

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Chile supported scrutiny of various states’ human rights records in 2023. It voted in favor of a resolution extending the mandates of groups of UN experts investigating systematic rights violations in Nicaragua and Syria, and of the special rapporteurs on the human rights situations in Russia, Iran, and Belarus. 

In January, Chile joined Colombia in requesting an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on states’ human rights obligations in responding to the climate emergency, including its varied impact on regions and particular population groups.