Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Chile

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Chile, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4b0.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

Chilean democracy follows a Constitution written under the former military government and approved by referendum in 1980, which places limits on popular rule. Chile held its second presidential and parliamentary elections under this Constitution on December 11, and Eduardo Frei will assume the presidency on March 11, 1994. Congress approved an amendment to the Constitution to limit presidential terms to 6 years – the period he is expected to serve. The Congress is comprised of 120 Deputies and 18 Senators elected in December 1993, 20 Senators elected in 1989, and 8 Senators appointed in 1990. While the governing coalition again won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the eight senators appointed in 1990 by the former military government for 8-year terms continue to deprive the Government of a majority in the Senate. The constitutionally independent judicial branch remained largely dominated by appointees of the former military regime.

The Constitution requires the armed forces to be subordinate to the President, with the Minister of Defense, a civilian appointed by the President, responsible for oversight of the military. In practice the armed forces remain largely autonomous institutions, and the civilian Government lacks independent authority to remove their commanders. The army deployed a small number of troops around its headquarters in Santiago on May 28, and its officers appeared in combat dress for several days to express displeasure with civilian authorities over several issues, including judicial processing of past human rights violations. General Pinochet, the 78-year-old leader and only member of the 1973 military junta still on active duty, remains as Commander in Chief of the army, a position he may by law hold until March 1998.

The Carabineros, Chile's uniformed national police, have primary responsibility for public order and safety, crime control, and border security. The Investigations Police are responsible for controlling and investigating serious crime. Both police organizations, although formally under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, fall under the operational control of the Ministry of Interior. Elements of the police forces were again responsible for human rights abuses. The Government asked for independent judicial investigations when police were accused of human rights violations, including the use of excessive force to control violent demonstrations and of torture to extract confessions.

Chile's free market economy enjoyed its tenth consecutive year of expansion in 1993. Economic growth, though slowed by lower world prices for Chile's principal exports, was estimated at over 5 percent. Unemployment remained less than 5 percent, near 20-year lows, while inflation was 12 percent, slightly less than the rate in 1992. Copper remains Chile's most important source of foreign exchange, followed by fresh fruit and fish meal.

Four years after the transition to democracy, the principal human rights issues still involved redress for human rights abuses that occurred during the former military government's rule. Efforts to redress the abuses were shaped by often conflicting requirements for justice and national reconciliation. The Supreme Court has been reluctant to confront the military over human rights, and one justice was impeached by Congress and removed from office for "gross neglect of duties" for his handling of a human rights case. Another Supreme Court justice sentenced commanders of the former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) as intellectual authors of the 1976 assassination in Washington, DC, of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt. Disputes continue over the interpretation of the 1978 amnesty law and prosecution of military personnel and their collaborators for abuses not covered by the amnesty. Other human rights abuses include torture and excessive use of force by the police, arbitrary arrests, instances of prior restraint of the press, discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous people, and violence against women and children.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The Government was not responsible for political killings in 1993. In an important step toward ending the impunity of military officers involved in the Letelier case, Adolfo Banados, a Supreme Court justice appointed by the current Aylwin Government, sentenced retired General Manuel Contreras and Colonel Pedro Espinoza to 7- and 6-year prison terms, respectively, as intellectual authors of the 1976 murder in Washington, DC, of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt. The Supreme Court is expected to rule early in 1994 on appeals of the sentences by all parties. This is the only case involving the now dissolved DINA the Pinochet-era secret police that the 1978 amnesty law specifically excluded.

Chilean police were responsible for some extrajudicial killings. In January Juan Acevedo, a 23-year-old forestry professional died in the southern port city of Constitucion after interrogation by the Investigations Police. A local judge found evidence of torture, and the Supreme Court appointed a special judge to continue the investigation. In February Luis Alberto Caniulaf died after being arrested by Carabineros for rape. The investigating judge ordered the arrest of three civilians and four Carabineros who were family members of the victim. The Carabineros were subsequently discharged from the police force. Both cases remained active in the courts at the end of the year.

Police were also responsible for two deaths when demonstrations in Santiago sponsored by leftist and human rights groups on September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 1973 coup, turned violent. Demonstrators threw rocks at police, erected barricades, overturned cars, and set fires. When police responded, a 66-year-old government worker died when he was run over by a police vehicle carrying a water cannon, and Jose Araya Ortiz, an 18-year-old member of the Communist Youth, died of gunshot wounds probably the result of Carabinero fire. At the Government's request, the Supreme Court appointed Appeals Court Judge Humberto Espejo to investigate the incidents, but at year's end his report had not been made public.

Two terrorist groups, the dissident wing of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR/D) and the Lautaro Youth Movement, were responsible for most political violence. Police made important arrests among the top leaders of these organizations in 1993, but terrorists continued to conduct violent, well-armed operations. Chilean terrorists killed one policeman and one maintenance worker, and according to press reports six terrorists died in confrontations with the police through December 1. On March 25, the Investigations Police captured Lautaro's number two leader, Delfin Diaz, who reportedly masterminded a 1992 attack on the police. On August 5, Investigations Police captured Mauricio Hernandez Norambuena, number two leader of the FPMR/D, who was accused of participating in the April 1991 murder of Senator Jaime Guzman and three attacks on American government representatives in Chile.

The former military government enacted an amnesty law in 1978, the prime beneficiaries of which were those responsible for human rights abuses committed during the first 5 years of the military government's rule. The Aylwin administration interpreted the amnesty law to mean that the courts should first determine the authors of human rights abuses before applying the amnesty. Legal reforms in 1991 remanded most human rights cases from military to civilian jurisdiction. However, when the investigation showed that a crime was committed on a military base or military personnel were accused of the crime, military tribunals reclaimed jurisdiction, and the military courts applied the amnesty law to close the cases without determining the facts or criminal responsibility. These decisions led critics to charge that Chile's Supreme Court impeded justice for victims of human rights abuses committed by the military forces.

For example, the extradition of Osvaldo Romo Mena, who fled to Brazil in 1975, was sought by Appeals Court Judge Gloria Olivares to testify about the 1974 disappearance of Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) leader Alfonso Chanfreau, in whose apprehension Romo allegedly participated. The Brazilian Government expelled Romo to Chile in November 1992, but before he could testify, a chamber of the Supreme Court, with Justice Hernan Cereceda presiding, granted the military courts jurisdiction over the investigation. The military court closed the case (and later reopened it to apply the amnesty). In response, the Chamber of Deputies voted along strict party lines to impeach the three Supreme Court justices and the Auditor General of the army who voted to transfer the Chanfreau case to military tribunals. The Deputies found that they had committed a "gross neglect of duties" for having applied procedural technicalities in the Chanfreau case and ignoring constitutional reforms intended to give the tenets of the American Convention on Human Rights precedence over domestic law. The opposition-controlled Senate was expected to reject the charges, but on January 25 three opposition National Renewal Senators joined the governing coalition to vote on one count to remove Cereceda, the second-ranking member of the Supreme Court, from office.

Criticism of the Supreme Court's handling of human rights issues continued. The Court failed to reverse a military appeals court ruling against a serious injury finding by a lower court in the case involving Carmen Gloria Quintana, who was seriously burned in a confrontation with a military patrol in 1986, and Rodrigo Rojas, who died of burns. This case was the first in which a military court had ruled in favor of human rights victims, and human rights groups pointed to considerable evidence demonstrating the responsibility of military personnel in the crime.

The Supreme Court also unanimously rejected a request from the Chamber of Deputies to assist the Argentine judge investigating the 1976 murder of former Army Commander General Carlos Prats and initially, by a narrow majority, refused the Foreign Ministry's request that it appoint a member of the Supreme

Court to investigate the 1976 death of Carmelo Soria, a Spanish citizen employed by the United Nations. Soria's death in 1976 was attributed to a traffic accident, but Michael Townley, a key witness in the Letelier case, admitted that Soria had been tortured and killed at Townley's home. In 1991 the Foreign Ministry requested that the case be reopened, and the Supreme Court appointed Appeals Court Judge Violeta Guzman to investigate. She found evidence that two active duty colonels and four other former army officials who worked in the DINA had participated in Soria's murder. When she called them to testify as possible suspects, the military courts requested jurisdiction over the investigation, and on November 18 the third chamber of the Supreme Court granted jurisdiction to military courts.

The Spanish Government informed Chile that the case had affected relations between the two countries, and recalled its ambassador in December. The Foreign Ministry asked the courts to use procedures envisioned in the 1991 judicial reforms to have a Supreme Court justice investigate the crime. On December 2, by a narrow majority, the Supreme Court rejected the Government's request on the basis that relations with Spain would not be affected. The case led some on the left to explore the possibility of impeaching some or all of the Supreme Court justices who voted against the Government's request. The Government submitted more evidence of the damage the case had caused its relations with Spain, and the Supreme Court reversed its decision, voting 10 to 2 to appoint 1 of its members to investigate the case. Since the 1978 amnesty would apply to the case, it is unlikely that those responsible for the Soria murder will be convicted or punished.

Special Judge Milton Juica on September 28 formally accused five former Carabineros and a civilian, Miguel Estay Reyno, of the 1985 throat slashing of three Communist Party leaders. Twelve other former Carabineros from the disbanded Directorate of Intelligence (Dicomcar) were accused of being accessories in the murder. The Supreme Court dropped charges against former junta member and Carabinero Commander General Mendoza, saying he was not involved in the crime.

Little progress was made on resolving the 1982 murder of Tucapel Jimenez. A chief suspect in the case, a former military officer, was in jail in Argentina pending extradition. Retired army Major Alvaro Corbalan, the commander of an intelligence unit accused of murdering a carpenter to cover up the Jimenez murder, was under house arrest on a military base, and another accomplice was still in jail. Corbalan is the only former military officer under detention in Chile.

The National Reparation and Conciliation Corporation began operating in 1992 to compensate families of human rights victims. On September 30, 1993, it was paying pensions to 4,600 family members of victims who died of human rights violations committed before 1990. The Chilean State has paid $26.5 million to the victims' families, including college tuition for offspring up to the age of 35 who wish to study. Wives, children, and parents of victims are eligible for pensions, and the amount for each family member is more than double that paid under the old social security system. The Corporation also continued the work of the Rettig Commission, investigating reports of human rights abuses where victims died. The President, Alejandro Gonzalez, expects the Corporation to reach conclusions on deaths or disappearances of the more than 3,200 victims by the time it finishes its work in 1994.

b. Disappearance

The Government was not responsible for disappearances during 1993. Disappearance cases from before 1978 cannot be closed and the alleged perpetrator amnestied until a court determines that the victim is dead. Since the bodies of many of the disappeared have never been found, the cases were an ongoing irritant in civil-military (particularly civil-army) relations because judicial processes against officers – who would inevitably be covered by the amnesty – were both disruptive to army operations and embarrassing to the institution. An Aylwin administration proposal to permit confidential testimony in order to close the cases expeditiously was not pursued owing to the concern of some members of the governing coalition that it would result in impunity for human rights violators. It did not guarantee that civilian courts would undertake the investigations nor that the military would cooperate.

In 1993 a court convicted five FPMR/D militants of the September 1991 kidnaping of Cristian Edwards, son of the owner of Santiago's prestigious El Mercurio newspaper. An FPMR leader captured in August is believed to be the intellectual author of the kidnaping, but police were not able to find any trace of the million-dollar ransom the family paid.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the "use of illegal pressure" is forbidden, there continued to be mistreatment and torture by some Carabinero and Investigations Police units in 1993. The Defense Committee of the Peoples' Rights (CODEPU) had received 17 reports of torture or cruel treatment by Carabineros and 6 by the Investigations Police through November 15, and filed 25 complaints with the courts. The abuses were mostly associated with interrogations, and included sleep, food, and water deprivation, threats, beatings, and forced standing for long periods of time. Allegations of the use of electrical shock were rare.

The Government, which includes many human rights leaders and victims in important positions, asked for independent judicial investigations of credible complaints. Investigations of torture seldom resulted in arrests, in part because members of the judiciary, many of them appointed by the military regime, are reluctant to pursue the issue vigorously.

In one highly publicized case, a Brazilian woman, Tania Maria Cordeiro, was arrested and allegedly tortured after her boarder was detained for possession of arms used by members of the Lautaro Youth Movement in bank robberies. The Brazilian consul tried for months to call the Government's attention to the case before her lawyer, a respected human rights defender, publicized the case in August. Soon thereafter, the Supreme Court designated Appeals Court Judge Alejandro Solis to investigate the complaint. In November he charged eight policemen with administrative violations for psychological pressure to extract a confession and for illegal detention of Cordeiro and her 13-year-old daughter, but he did not find proof of torture.

Chilean prisons are strapped for funds and antiquated, but conditions are not life threatening. Food is provided to meet minimal nutritional needs, and prisoners may supplement their diet by buying food. Those with sufficient funds can rent space in a better wing of the prison. Although prison guards have been accused by some human rights groups of using excessive force to stop attempted prison breaks, the guards generally act professionally and do not mistreat prisoners. The Government permits monitoring of prison conditions, and the Minister of Justice who supervises the guards visits prisoners to hear their complaints. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which formerly visited political prisoners, closed its office in Chile because it felt there was no longer a need for a full-time presence.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution allows civilian and military courts to order detention for up to 5 days without arraignment and extend the detention for up to 10 days for suspected terrorist acts. By law, detainees are to be provided 30 minutes of immediate and daily access to a lawyer (although not in private) and to a doctor to verify their physical condition. The law does not permit a judge to deny such access. With few exceptions, this practice appeared to be observed by police authorities. It is quite common for the police to make "arrests for suspicion," particularly of youth in high-crime areas late at night. The Chilean Human Rights Commission reported that many of those detained were never charged and were released after a few days.

There were no cases of forced exile in 1993, but some Chileans convicted of politically motivated crimes during the military regime agreed to go abroad as a condition of their release from jail.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the Constitution calls for a judicial system independent of the other branches of government, the judiciary, and particularly the Supreme Court, is dominated by appointees of the former military regime. Their rulings are often partial to the military and the police. Ten of the 17 Supreme Court judges were appointed by General Pinochet, 7 of them after he lost the 1988 plebiscite. The court system is widely criticized for being antiquated and inefficient. Trial is not by jury. Reliance is on the written record rather than oral testimony, and the judge renders a verdict after directing the investigation. The investigative phase is considered secret, with limited access for the accused or his attorney to evidence or testimony which has been accumulated by the judge. There is a well-developed, multistage appeal process leading ultimately to the Supreme Court. This lengthy process results in very slow final decisions; it is not uncommon for cases to linger in the court system for several years. In 1993, for example, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of heirs of the plaintiff in a case involving a 1967 land confiscation.

Under the military government, a broad interpretation of state security laws greatly expanded the jurisdiction of military courts over the prosecution of proscribed political activities. A 1991 legal reform package (the "cumplido" laws) limited the jurisdiction of military tribunals and transferred most cases to the civilian courts. The Auditor General of the army may sit as a visiting justice in Supreme Court chambers that hear cases involving army officials.

The court is often partial in decisions involving military personnel (see Section 1.a.). For example, on May 28, after a delay of more than a year, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's order to detain active duty army Lieutenant Colonel Fernando Laureani, who had been a DINA squad leader when two MIR members disappeared in 1974. Laureani failed to appear in court and spent several months as a fugitive. In July as President Aylwin was proposing a change in judicial procedures, the fourth chamber of the Supreme Court voted unanimously to grant a military court jurisdiction, confirming the precedent that the military will take jurisdiction if an active duty officer is indicted for a human rights violation covered by the amnesty. The military court applied the amnesty to Laureani and closed the case.

President Aylwin commuted the sentences in 1993 of 11 persons convicted for politically motivated crimes committed during the military regime, including the only woman in that group. Eight of the former prisoners were sent to live outside Chile for the remainder of their sentences as a condition of their release. At year's end, the number of persons remaining in jail charged with violating state security laws before March 11, 1990, had dropped to 10. (There had been 335 when Aylwin took office.) Those prisoners suffered extended periods of pretrial detention and torture, and were colloquially known as "political prisoners." However, they were involved in Chile's more notorious terrorist incidents such as the death of five bodyguards in the 1986 assassination attempt of then President Pinochet. The judicial system has sentenced six of them, including three for the assassination attempt. They applied for presidential pardons, and President Aylwin may commute their sentences as he has done in other cases. For the first time, a beneficiary of an Aylwin pardon was rearrested in 1993 for criminal activities committed after his release.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Searches of the home and interception of private communications are prohibited by the Constitution, unless either a civilian or military court issues a search warrant for specific locations. The 1984 antiterrorist law provides for surveillance of those suspected of terrorist crimes, and for the interception, opening, or recording of private communications and documents in such cases.

There were further developments in a 1992 political espionage case involving a cellular telephone conversation recorded and subsequently played on a national television program, destroying two candidates' presidential campaigns. The army acknowledged that an army captain had "misused" its espionage equipment to record a private conversation and leak it to the media. The Supreme Court ruled that the law on telephone intercepts only covered conversations carried on wire, not on cellular telephones, and ordered the defendants freed of all charges. The military courts punished the army captain only for neglect of duty, but he was discharged from the army in November.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and these rights are generally respected in practice. The press generally maintains its independence and exercises responsible, professional judgment, including in its criticism of the Government. Issues sensitive to the military, including human rights abuses, are widely covered in the media. During 1993, military courts heard no new cases against journalists, but several cases were still pending from prior years. A military court confiscated one edition of a newspaper for reporting on the Soria case while a "gag order" was in effect, but it did not call the editors to court. Several attempts by

Congress to transfer jurisdiction in such cases from military to civilian courts were not successful.

Press debate focused on censorship on several occasions in 1993. In March the navy seized and prohibited circulation of a publication by a retired navy captain entitled "Ethics and the Intelligence Service." In April a Santiago court of appeals prohibited the sale or distribution of a book by Francisco Martorell entitled "Diplomatic Impunity."

In August President Aylwin reignited the censorship controversy when he requested that the national television station delay the broadcast of an interview with Michael Townley in which the former DINA agent detailed how and why he put a bomb under the car of Orlando Letelier. The President asserted that showing the interview on the government-owned station at that time was needlessly inflammatory. The program aired 10 days later, but the program's director was dismissed for adding to the debate about presidential influence over the state-owned television station and for allegedly asserting excessive independence from the board of directors.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Citizens have the right to peaceful assembly and association. Permission to hold rallies and demonstrations on streets and public plazas is issued according to police guidelines. Permission must be requested 72 hours in advance, and it is usually granted; however, authorities often suggest an alternate location to minimize inconvenience to other people.

Prior to September 11, the 20th anniversary of the coup, the Government asked Santiago authorities not to authorize demonstrations near La Moneda presidential palace, the site where most of the fighting took place on the day of the coup and where former President Allende committed suicide. Anticoup demonstrators threw rocks at police, erected barricades, overturned cars, and set fires. When Carabineros responded, a police vehicle ran over and killed a 66-year-old man, and an 18-year-old member of the Communist Youth died of gunshot wounds, probably the result of Carabinero fire (see Section 1.a.). Ten days after the incidents, an attorney representing the injured Carabineros asked the courts to prosecute the demonstrators who were responsible. Since he asked that the courts pursue the "instigators" as well as the material authors of the injuries, human rights groups (some of whom were among the organizers) claimed he was attempting to restrict freedom of assembly.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. Chile is predominantly Roman Catholic, but other denominations practice their faiths without restriction.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Chileans by law are free to move within and to enter and leave their country. The National Office of Returnees – established by the Congress in 1990 to facilitate the reincorporation into Chilean society of more than 26,000 Chileans who have returned from exile – has assisted more than 13,000 exiles and their families by providing special access to health care, housing, and information on job opportunities.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Chile is a constitutional democracy, and citizens now have the right to change their government through periodic elections. There is universal suffrage for citizens 18 years of age or over, and more than 95 percent of those eligible are registered to vote. Voting is compulsory for those who register. National elections for the President and Congress were held on December 11, the second since the return to democracy. President-elect Frei won the biggest majority in modern Chilean history, capturing 58 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race, but Chile's unique binomial system allowed the rightist opposition to pick up strength in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

The former military government wrote the 1980 Constitution and amended it slightly in 1989 after General Pinochet lost a referendum to stay in office. It provides for a strong presidency and a legislative branch with more limited powers. The President has the authority to designate the "urgency" of bills and to determine time limits for Congress to consider them. In addition, the Constitution includes provisions designed to protect the interests of the military and the political right and, according to its defenders (and even some critics), to provide stability in the political process and encourage the formation of large coalitions. The center-left coalition which governed Chile in 1993 accepted the legitimacy of the 1980 Constitution but sought to amend elements characterized as "authoritarian enclaves" left over from the previous regime. These included limitations on the President's right to remove chiefs of the armed forces, an electoral system that gives the political opposition a disproportionate representation in Congress, and the existence of nonelected "institutional senators" who deprive the governing coalition of an elected majority in the Senate.

Women have had the right to vote in municipal elections since 1948 and in national elections since 1952, and they are active in political life, especially at the grassroots level. Women make up a majority of the registered voters and of voters who actually cast ballots, but there are few women in leadership positions. Although some women lost their bids for reelection, 6 women won new seats in the Chamber of Deputies, increasing their numbers to 9 of 120 deputies. Chile's indigenous people are able to participate freely in the political process. Although relatively few members of Chile's Indian population are politically active, their participation has increased since the 1990 democratic transition. Of the nearly 1 million self-described indigenous people in Chile, there is one representative of Indian descent in the Congress.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Aylwin Government cooperated with nongovernmental organizations that seek to investigate continued human rights violations in Chile. A number of government officials were formerly active in the Catholic Church's Vicariate of Solidarity (which closed its offices in 1992). The Vicariate had taken the lead in defending human rights during the Pinochet regime and provided legal counsel to families of victims who were killed or disappeared between 1973 and 1990. The Social Aid Foundation of the Christian Churches hired many of the Vicariate's lawyers and assumed the bulk of the Vicariate's caseload of pre-1990 human rights violations.

Several human rights leaders established the Foundation for Documentation and Records of the Vicariate of Solidarity to maintain the case files and assist in documenting human rights abuses between 1973 and 1990. The Chilean Human Rights Commission is affiliated with the International League of Human Rights and continues to gather evidence of police abuses. The Defense Committee of the Peoples' Rights provides legal counsel to those currently accused of politically related crimes and to victims of human rights abuses. The Communist Party and the Group of Families of the Disappeared Detainees are working for the repeal of the 1978 amnesty law.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

Legal distinctions between the sexes still exist, despite a 1989 law which eliminated many restrictions on women. Divorce is not legal in Chile; those who seek to remarry are required to seek annulments. The courts are relatively tolerant on technicalities for dissolving a marriage, but since annulments imply that the marriage legally never existed, former wives and children are left without any legal recourse for financial support. A bill to create conjugal property as an option in a marriage passed the Chamber of Deputies but has not yet been voted on in the Senate. Inheritance laws provide strong protection for wives and protect female offspring, and a 1992 law accords children born out of wedlock the same civil rights as offspring born in wedlock. Many believe, however, that the changes in law have not been matched by a change in attitude by society, police, or the courts.

Abuses such as wife beating continue to be tolerated or ignored. The National Women's Service (SERNAM), whose director was the only woman with cabinet rank in the Aylwin Government, estimated that one in four women had been subject to physical violence by her husband or partner, but that 75 percent do not dare to report it. A 1992 survey conducted by SERNAM in metropolitan Santiago showed the highest level of violence in the lower economic strata, where 34 percent of women reported that they had experienced physical abuse. SERNAM conducted courses on the legal, medical, and psychological aspects of domestic violence for Carabineros, who are often the first public officials to intervene in such incidents. More than 5,000 have been trained in new techniques for assisting abused women. SERNAM also teaches courses (therapy) for wife abusers and allows free followup when the aggressor needs further support. SERNAM estimates that authorities are able to prevent further abuse in 70 percent of the cases that are reported.

Children

The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare, and strengthening the family was a prominent campaign theme across the political spectrum. A U.N. Children's Fund study found that malnutrition among Chilean children was the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, affecting less than 1 percent. The National Minors Service (SENAME) found that sexual abuse of minors, some as young as 6 years of age, occurred but that few cases are reported. The Carabineros support the creation of a public defender for children's rights.

Indigenous People

In 1993 Congress passed a law that was drafted by a committee composed of representatives of the various indigenous groups recognizing the ethnic diversity of the indigenous populations. It replaced a law that emphasized assimilation, and it gives them a greater voice in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions. The law allows for eventual bilingual education in schools with a large indigenous population. The population which identifies itself as indigenous (nearly 1 million, according to the 1992 census) remains separated from the rest of society, largely because of historical, cultural, educational, and geographical factors. The Mapuches in southern Chile form the bulk of the indigenous population (over 90 percent), but there are small Aimara, Atacameno, Huilliche, Rapa Nui, and Kawaskhar populations in other parts of Chile.

A young Mapuche leader, Aucan Huilcaman, was convicted of inciting land takeovers but was free on bail pending the outcome of his appeal. At the World Human Rights Conference in Vienna, he advocated indigenous peoples' rights to "possess, control, administer, and manage a territory" while choosing the appropriate development strategy to suit each culture. While the new law honors this principle, some Indian leaders would prefer more explicit reference to the right for community ownership of land according to their traditional pattern. Huilcaman was not able to run for Congress because of his criminal record, but several other indigenous people were candidates. They tried to form a united front, urging Indians to vote their ethnic origins rather than for political affiliation. However, most of the Indian candidates were on the leftist ticket that won no seats in the Congress. One, Francisco Huenchumilla, a Christian Democratic moderate, ran for reelection and won easily, capturing more than 47 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate race.

National/Ethnic/Racial Minorities

Chile is a relatively homogeneous and isolated society and intolerance of small ethnic minority groups is evident. A Korean immigrant was banned from a local health club because the owner claimed that her "odor" would keep other customers from coming to use the sauna. She filed suit, and the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, but the courts have yet to fix damages.

Religious Minorities

The number of bombings of Mormon churches declined this year, with 15 reported, apparently as a result of the success the police had in arresting leaders of the Lautaro. Two of the incidents, however, were more violent than those in the past, with terrorists confronting worshipers in the churches. The terrorists' motives for attacking the Mormons were not clear but were apparently more political than religious.

B'nai B'rith International raised concern about the activities of a small "neo-Nazi" movement; its District 27 issued a report in July that noted groups of as many as 200 Chileans had held ceremonies to declare their allegiance to the Third Reich and their opposition to democracy.

People with Disabilities

Chilean law does not require that public buildings provide access for people with disabilities, and the Santiago metro, the pride of Chile's system of public transportation, has no provisions for wheelchair access. Chile has for many years conducted a telethon to assist people with disabilities in obtaining physical therapy. Groups connected with the telethon are beginning to increase public awareness of people with disabilities. For example, one group formed a dance company with several of the performers confined to wheelchairs. Reserved parking for the disabled is no longer a rarity.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Most workers have the right to form unions without prior authorization or to join existing unions, and 14.4 percent of the work force was organized at the end of 1992. Legislation was introduced to allow government employee associations the same rights as trade unions. Such associations now participate in labor centrals, but they do not enjoy the same legal protection as unions. Only the police and military are not allowed to form such employee associations.

The Labor Code now permits the formation of nationwide labor centrals, and the largest and most representative one, the Unified Workers Central (CUT), legalized its status in April 1992. The Labor Code does not conform in key respects to International Labor Organization Conventions 87 and 98 on, respectively, freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively, which Chile has not ratified. However, the Government actively encouraged labor to organize. The number of labor unions increased by more than 40 percent under the Aylwin Government.

Affiliations with confederations and federations (second-tier labor groups) continued to increase, and many of them maintain ties to international labor organizations. The CUT is not now affiliated with any labor international, but it scheduled an extraordinary congress in 1994 to reconsider the matter. Unions are independent of the Government, but most union leaders are elected from lists based on party affiliation. The CUT has factions affiliated with the Christian Democratic (the largest), Socialist, and Communist parties.

Reforms to the Labor Code in 1990 removed significant restrictions on the right to strike. Labor unions continue to object to the requirement that workers vote by secret ballot in the presence of a labor inspector or notary on whether to accept a company's final offer. Striking workers may no longer be fired after 60 days on strike without severance benefits. Employers are required to show cause whenever they fire workers but can claim "needs of the enterprise" as a sufficient cause. Observers believe that some employers invoke this clause to fire employees for attempting to form unions.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The climate for collective bargaining has improved, and the number of negotiated contracts has grown steadily; at the end of 1992, 16.7 percent of the eligible workers had collective bargaining agreements. The process for collectively negotiating a formal contract is heavily regulated, and the Labor Code contains detailed rules for contract negotiations. Multicompany or sector negotiations require the prior consent of all affected companies and unions, so most negotiations take place at the company level. The Labor Code allows multiple unions and worker committees to engage in parallel negotiations with the same company. Strikes may be called only if workers reject a collective bargaining agreement. However, the law permits (and the Aylwin administration encouraged) informal union-management discussions to reach collective agreements ("convenios") outside the regulated bargaining process. These agreements have the same force as formal contracts. Once a contract has been signed, workers must pursue grievances in the court system.

The Labor Code specifies what can be "matters for collective bargaining" and prohibits collective bargaining over any issue that "can limit or restrict the ability of the employer to organize or direct the enterprise." Labor leaders say this is used by some employers to limit discussions of working conditions. Employers may also include a clause in individual employment contracts that some employees are supervisory personnel who are not allowed to participate in collective bargaining. In the telephone company, for example, most technical personnel have such contracts.

Temporary workers defined in the Labor Code as agricultural, construction, and port workers, as well as entertainers may now form unions, but their right to collective bargaining continues to be restricted. Some 700,000 workers, including most agricultural workers, are limited to informal negotiations, meaning they have no protection from unfair bargaining practices.

The Labor Code provides sanctions for unfair bargaining practices that protect workers from dismissal during the bargaining process, but union leaders claim companies invoke the "needs of the enterprise" clause to fire workers after a union has signed a new contract. Although the law protects union officials from such dismissals, second-echelon leaders who do not hold union offices may lose their jobs. The Labor Ministry's Director General says this raises questions about the real cause for dismissals, but his legal authority only allows inspectors to assure that companies make severance payments; they do not investigate the causes for a dismissal. If a worker proves in court that he was fired unfairly, this will raise his severance payment by 20 percent but not get his job back.

The Labor Code also applies in Chile's duty-free zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited in the Constitution and the Labor Code, and there is no evidence that it is currently practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Child labor is regulated by law. Children as young as 14 years old may legally be employed only with permission of parents or guardians, after completing their compulsory elementary schooling and in restricted types of labor. Those aged 15 to 18 may be employed in a larger variety of jobs and at expanded hours, but only with their parent's or guardian's permission. Labor inspectors enforce these regulations and voluntary compliance is good in the formal sector. Economic factors have forced many children to seek employment in the informal economy which is more difficult to regulate. Carabineros have procedures to counsel parents who force their children to work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards are regulated by law. The maximum legal workweek is 48 hours, which must be worked in the course of either 5 or 6 days. The maximum length of any given workday is 10 hours. Since the Aylwin administration took office, there have been tripartite negotiations each year in which business and labor agreed to the minimum wage proposal sent by the Government to Congress. Since 1990, the minimum wage increased by more than 30 percent in real terms. Lower paid workers also receive a family subsidy (which employers deduct from their taxes) to help raise their earnings to an acceptable level. The formula for calculating the minimum wage considers projected future inflation and increases in productivity, and the minimum monthly wage is now about $115 (46,000 pesos).

The Ministry of Labor has inspectors to enforce laws covering working conditions. Despite increases in resources, enforcement is difficult, especially in small enterprises and the informal sector, but voluntary compliance is fairly good. Workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger their health and safety have their employment protected, provided they have asked a workers' delegate to bring the problem to the attention of labor inspectors.

Search Refworld

Countries