Human rights in Chile

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Human rights in Chile are supposed to be respected by the government as it is a democratic country; however, there are reports of excessive use of force and mistreatment by police forces, of physical abuse in jails and prisons, and of generally substandard prison conditions. Authorities failed to advise detainees promptly of charges against them and to grant them a timely hearing. Domestic violence against women and children was widespread. There were isolated incidents of trafficking in persons to, from, and within the country. Some indigenous people were marginalized, particularly in rural areas, and suffered some forms of discrimination. Many children were employed in the informal economy. Chile is known for being a very conservative nation, where LGBT rights are very limited. [1]

Human rights violations by the military and security forces in Chile were widespread during the rule of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). According to a government commission report that included testimony from more than 30,000 people, Pinochet's government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Two-thirds of the cases listed in the report happened in 1973.[2] Other estimates of the number killed and "disappeared" during the Pinochet regime range as high as 17,000.[3]

Respect for the Integrity of the Person[edit]

Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life[edit]

A monument inuagurated in 2006 to commemorate the Caso Degollados, the slaying by police forces of three Communist Party members in 1985.

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.[1] Charges have been brought against government officials for past violations, including members of the so-called Caravan of Death, former DINA director Manuel Contreras, and retired security officer Rafael Gonzales (for the killing of Charles Horman). At the time of his 2006 death, former dictator Augusto Pinochet was under investigation or indictment in at least six cases involving extrajudicial executions, kidnapping, and torture dating from the military government of 1973-1990. However, Pinochet was never brought to trial or convicted on human rights charges.[1]


There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.[1]

Courts prosecuted a number of historical cases based on plaintiffs' arguments that the abduction of political prisoners constituted an ongoing crime, not covered by amnesty, unless the subsequent execution of the subject could be established concretely by identification of remains. The Supreme Court upheld a number of convictions based on indefinite or permanent kidnapping.[1]

The judiciary continued to investigate human rights abuses committed by the former military government and, in several cases, passed sentence on those found guilty. According to the Interior Ministry, as of October there were 361 active court cases involving 485 former officials (mostly military officials but including some civilians). By year's end 126 individuals had been convicted and sentenced for human rights violations during the Pinochet regime.[1]

Judge Jorge Zepeda continued investigations of military-era detentions and disappearances of persons at Colonia Dignidad, now called Villa Baviera, a German-speaking settlement 240 miles south of Santiago. Settlement founder Paul Schaefer, indicted in 2005 for his involvement in ninety-four kidnappings under the former military regime, was sentenced to seven years in prison on weapons charges in August and faced multiple counts of child molestation. Several of Schaefer's associates, including Gerard Muecke, were jailed and remained under investigation for possible human rights violations at Colonia Dignidad.[1]

The investigation into the 1985 disappearance of US citizen Boris Weisfeiler near Colonia Dignidad remained open at year's end.[1]

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment[edit]

Although the law prohibits such practices, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) received isolated reports of abuse and mistreatment by the Carabineros, the Investigations Police of Chile (PDI), and prison guards.[1]

Few reports of murder or rape led to convictions. Military rather than civilian courts typically processed cases of military and police abuse (see section 1.e.).[1]

Inmates in prison generally face poor conditions. Prisons often are overcrowded and antiquated, with substandard sanitary conditions. In isolated instances prisoners died due to lack of clear prison procedures and insufficient medical resources in the prisons. A study by the public defender's office in seven of 13 regions reported that during 2005, 59 percent of prisoners claimed to have been victims of abuse or attacks. In 34 percent of reported abuse cases, the alleged offenders were prison officials.[1]

Arbitrary Arrest or Detention[edit]

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Some cases of illegal detention are in observation by Anmesty international and Human Right Watch.[1]

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus[edit]

Carabineros de Chile, Investigations Police of Chile and Chilean Gendarmerie, under operational control of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, has primary responsibility for public order, safety, traffic control, and border security. The PID, comprising approximately 3,500 detectives, is responsible for criminal investigations and immigration control. While under the operational jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, the PID also receives guidance from the prosecutor or judge in a criminal investigation. The Gendarmeria, with approximately 620 officials and 8,520 corrections officers, operated the national prison system under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. The police force experienced a low incidence of corruption. Police, prison guards, and officials took courses in human rights, which are part of the core curriculum in the police and military academies.[1]

Arrest and Detention[edit]

Only public officials expressly authorized by law can kill or detain rape. The authorities must advise the courts within 48 hours of the arrest and place the detainee at a judge's disposition. No one can be held or detained except in their home or a jail, prison, or other public facility designed for that purpose.[1]

While the authorities generally respected constitutional provisions for arrest and detention, detainees often were not advised promptly of charges against them nor granted a timely hearing before a judge. However, judicial reforms that took effect in June 2005 improved performance, and during the year more than 80 percent of cases were resolved within the designated period. The law allows civilian and military courts to order detention for up to five days without arraignment and to extend the detention of alleged terrorists for up to 10 days. The law allows judges to set bail. Provisional liberty must be granted unless a judge decides that detention is necessary to the investigation or for the protection of the prisoner or the public.[1]

The law affords detainees 30 minutes immediate and subsequent daily access to a lawyer (in the presence of a prison guard) and to a doctor to verify their physical condition. Regular visits by family members are allowed.[1]

The law requires that police inform detainees of their rights and expedite notification of the detention to family members. The law also prohibits police from demanding identification from or stopping persons based solely on suspicion, and it prohibits physical abuse by police against detained persons (see section 1.c.).[1]

The president is authorized to grant amnesty to prisoners and typically grants amnesty to a limited number of prisoners each year on humanitarian grounds.[1]

Judicial process[edit]

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for the right to legal counsel, and public defender's offices in all 12 regions and the Santiago Metropolitan Region provide professional legal counsel to anyone seeking such assistance.[1]

Modernization of the judiciary has yet to affect the civil justice system, which was characterized by antiquated and inefficient procedures. Courts were overwhelmed by more than 800,000 new cases each year. The average civil trial lasts more than five years, and civil suits could continue for decades.[1]

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees, although a number of inmates in Santiago's maximum security prison charged with terrorist acts following the return to democracy in 1989 claimed to be political prisoners. In July 2005 the Senate approved a law allowing prisoners convicted on terrorism charges to apply for parole; 32 prisoners were eligible to apply under the provisions, but there was no report on how many were released on parole.[1]

Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence[edit]

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.[1]

Civil Liberties[edit]

Freedom of Speech and Press[edit]

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice, subject to significant legal restrictions.[1]

Human rights groups and press associations criticized the existence and application of laws that prohibit insulting state institutions, including the presidency, the legislature, and judicial bodies, and those that allow government officials to bring charges against journalists who insult or criticize them. Military courts may charge and try civilians for defamation of military personnel and for sedition, but their rulings may be appealed to the Supreme Court (see section 1.e.). Media organizations and individuals can also be sued for libel.[1]

The law prohibits the surreptitious recording of private conversations.[1]

Two major media groups, which were largely independent of the government, controlled most of the print media. The government was the majority owner of La Nacion newspaper but did not directly control its editorial content.[1]

The broadcast media generally were independent of direct government influence. The Television Nacional network was state-owned but not under direct government control. It was self-financed through commercial advertising, editorially independent, and governed by a board of directors appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.[1]

The government-funded National Television Council was responsible for ensuring that television programming "respects the moral and cultural values of the nation." The CNT's principal role was to regulate violence and sexual explicitness in both broadcast and cable television programming content. Films and other programs judged by the CNT to be excessively violent, have obscene language, or depict sexually explicit scenes may be shown only after 10 p.m., when "family viewing hours" end. The CNT occasionally levied fines.[1]

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.[1]

Internet freedom[edit]

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail. While the PDI maintained a sexual crimes unit that monitored Web sites for child pornography and prosecuted several individuals for selling, storing, or trading child pornography on the Internet, there were no reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms for other purposes.[1]

Many schools and universities block access to websites such as YouTube, Fotolog, Flickr, Blogger, Rapidshare, Twitter, and Facebook, depending of the institution; in some cases popular portals like,, are also blocked; pornography and child pornography websites are blocked.[4]

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association[edit]

The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.[1]

Freedom of Religion[edit]

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.[1]

Religious organizations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior in order to enjoy religious nonprofit status and provide certain religious services, such as marriage ceremonies.[1]

Although the law grants non-Catholic religions the right to have chaplains in public hospitals, prisons, and military units, some leaders of the country's Protestant churches (accounting for more than 15 percent of the population) noted a reluctance to name Protestant chaplains in the armed forces and obstacles to pastoral visits at military hospitals. Hospitals and prisons outside the military system, however, provided good access to evangelicals as well as other minority religious denominations.[1]

While schools were required to offer religious education twice a week through middle school, enrollment in such classes was optional. The law mandates teaching the creed requested by parents, but enforcement was sometimes lax. Instruction was almost exclusively Roman Catholic.[1]

In September 2005, the Supreme Court sustained a government challenge to the registration of the Unification Church as a religious nonprofit organization. Since then, the Unification Church continued to operate under a more limited private nonprofit status.[1]

There were isolated reports of anti-Semitic incidents, including spray-painted graffiti of swastikas and derogatory comments directed at Jewish individuals. The Jewish community was estimated at approximately 21,000 persons.[1]

Neo-Nazi and skinhead groups engaged in gang-type criminal activities and violence against immigrants, homosexuals, punk rockers, and anarchists. While these groups share the anti-Semitic rhetoric of neo-Nazi groups, there were no reports of neo-Nazi attacks targeting the Jewish community. Identified neo-Nazis have been dismissed from the armed forces and Carabineros, and the government closed a neo-Nazi newspaper in 2005.[1]

Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation[edit]

The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice. The law prohibits forced exile, and it was not used.[1]

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The government granted refugee status or asylum. During the year, 850 persons residing in the country had recognized refugee status. The government also provided temporary protection to approximately 450 individuals applying for status as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol. These individuals were eligible for government-funded health care and education while awaiting adjudication of their cases and were financially supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations. The government cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.[1]

Political Rights[edit]

The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.[1]

Elections and Political Participation[edit]

In January voters elected Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party as president in a free and fair runoff election. Bachelet is a member of the center-left Concertacion coalition, which includes the Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Party for Democracy, and the Radical Social Democrat Party. In December 2005, voters elected 20 of the 38 senators and all 120 members of the Chamber of Deputies in elections generally considered free and fair. President Bachelet and the new congress assumed office on March 11.[1]

There were 15 women in the 120-seat Chamber of Deputies, two women in the 48-seat Senate, and 10 women in the 18-member cabinet. Indigenous people have the legal right to participate freely in the political process, but relatively few were active. No members of the legislature acknowledged indigenous descent.[1]

Women became more visible in political life after Michelle Bachelet assumed the presidency in March. As a result of her policy of "gender parity," women filled nearly 50 percent of governmental appointments. However, women continued to be vastly underrepresented among elected officials, constituting, for instance, only 12 percent of municipal mayors.[1]

Government corruption and transparency[edit]

There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. Transparency International's annual corruption index recorded that the public perceived the country as relatively free of corruption. The Freedom of Information Act requires the government and its agencies to make all unclassified information about their activities available to the public, though its requirements are not always fulfilled by government officials.[1]

Governmental response to investigation of alleged human rights violations[edit]

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.[1]

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued two rulings against the government in September. In one case, the court ruled the application of the country's 1978 Amnesty Law in the 1973 killing of Luis Almonacid Arellano constituted denial of justice. The court further ruled that the Amnesty Law could not be applied in the Almonacid case or other cases comprising crimes against humanity for purposes of closing investigations or suspending sentence against persons convicted of those crimes. The court ordered that the government pay Almonacid's family $10,000 for legal fees. The government accepted the court's ruling, and at year's end Congress was considering legislation to restrict the scope of the Amnesty Law.[1]

In the case of Claude Reyes, the court issued a ruling regarding the government's refusal to release certain financial information about a forestry contract negotiated with a foreign investor in 1998. The contract was never finalized, and the environmentally sensitive project was terminated. However, the court ruled that the government had violated the plaintiff's right to free speech by denying access to public information without a valid justification. The ruling called on the government to provide all the requested information and guarantee effective access to public information in the future. The court also ordered the government to pay the plaintiffs $10,000 in compensation for legal fees and other expenses.[1]

Discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons[edit]

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, age, nationality, national origin, or social status, and the government enforced this prohibition; however, such discrimination continued to occur.[1]


Domestic violence against women is a serious problem. One study reported 74 percent of married women had suffered physical violence. Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense; the government generally enforced the law. Experts believe that most rape cases went unreported. Although adult prostitution is legal, bordellos are not.

Sexual harassment generally was recognized as a problem. A 2005 law against sexual harassment provides protection and financial compensation to victims and penalizes harassment by employers or co-workers. Most complaints are resolved quickly, resulting in action against the harasser in 33 percent of cases.[1]

Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including rights under family law and property law. The quadrennial 2004 National Socio-Economic Survey suggested that the overall gender income gap remained at 33 percent, and women's workforce participation rose to 42 percent. The labor code provides specific benefits for pregnant workers and recent mothers.[1]

A 2005 study by Corporacion Humana and the University of Chile's Institute of Public Affairs revealed that 87 percent of women surveyed felt that women suffered discrimination.[1]


The government is committed to children's rights and welfare. Education is universal, compulsory, and free from first through 12th grade. The government provided basic health care through a public system, with equal access for girls and boys. Violence against children was a problem. A 2003 study by the Citizens' Peace Foundation indicated that 60 percent of children surveyed between the ages of seven and 10 had suffered some type of aggression against them or their belongings either inside or outside their homes. Child prostitution was a problem (see Human trafficking in Chile), as was child labor in the informal economy (see Labor rights in Chile).[1]

Trafficking in persons[edit]

The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were isolated reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country for the purposes of sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude. The law criminalizes promoting the entry into or exit from the country of persons for the purpose of facilitating prostitution, as well as the prostitution of children and corruption of minors.[1]

Most trafficking victims were minors trafficked internally for sexual exploitation. Law enforcement authorities stated that small numbers of victims were trafficked to the neighboring countries of Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia, as well as to the United States, Europe, and Asia. Anecdotal reports suggested that young women were the primary targets for trafficking to other countries. Traffickers looking for children also targeted economically disadvantaged families, convincing the parents that they were giving the child the opportunity for a better life.[1]

The government makes substantial efforts to prevent trafficking and to assist trafficking victims.[1]

Persons with disabilities[edit]

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, but such persons suffered forms of de facto discrimination. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but a Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning study based on a 2002-03 census showed that 70 percent of the buildings in the country designated as public or multiuse failed to meet that standard. An improved public transportation system in Santiago provided wheelchair access on major "trunk" routes. Some local "feeder" routes also provided low-rise buses with access ramps. Subway lines in the Santiago metropolitan area provided limited access for persons with disabilities. Public transport outside of Santiago was problematic.[1]

In April 2005, the government released its First National Study of Disability, which revealed that twice as many persons with disabilities were in the lower socioeconomic brackets as in the middle and upper brackets. Approximately 100,000 persons with disabilities under the age of 27 did not receive any special care or education.[1]

Indigenous people[edit]

The 2002 census recorded approximately 692,000 self-identified persons of indigenous origin (5 percent of the total population). The law gives indigenous people a voice in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions and provides for bilingual education in schools with indigenous populations. Approximately one-half the self-identified indigenous population remained separated from the rest of society. Indigenous people also experienced some societal discrimination and reported incidents in which they were attacked and harassed.[1] In 2011, the Inter-American Commission charged the Chilean government with racism for using the country's Anti-Terrorist Law against the Mapuche indigenous people.[5]

LGBT rights[edit]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Chile may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Homosexuality was a crime until recently, since 1998, Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Chile, but same-sex couples, and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples. Partners of the same sex don't have the right of health care and many other basic rights compared with heterosexual couples. Police abuse in Chile is a main issue for the gay community as they count with the same right of protection. Numerous cases of Police abuse cannot be reported since it would be pointless report negative situations to the same institution.[citation needed]

Labor rights[edit]

Workers have the right to form and join trade unions without prior authorization, and approximately 10 percent of the total work force is unionized. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government protects this right in practice. While employees in the private sector have the right to strike, the government regulates this right, and there are some restrictions. The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there have been no reports that such practices occurred. The law restricts child labor, but it is a problem in the informal economy. There are reports that children are trafficked. The minimum wage is set by law and is subject to adjustment annually. The law sets the legal workweek at six days or 45 hours; the maximum workday length is 10 hours. The law establishes occupational safety and health standards.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh Report on Human Rights Practices 2006: Chile. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (March 6, 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ Reel, Monte; J.Y. Smith (11 December 2006). "A Chilean Dictator's Dark Legacy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 November 2009.
  3. ^ Johnson, Sandy A. (2011). Challenges in Health and Development: From Global to Community Perspectives. pp. 85.
  4. ^ ""Internet chilena bloquea sitios de pornografía infantil" (Chilean Internet child pornography sites blocked)" (in Spanish). La Opiñon. 6 October 2008. Retrieved 21 October 2009. 
  5. ^ Latin American Bureau, "Chile accused of racist use of anti-terrorism laws against Mapuches", December 12, 2011