U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Chile
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Chile, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3018.html [accessed 29 March 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
CHILEChile is a multiparty democracy with a constitution that provides for a strong executive, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. Approved by referendum in 1980 and amended in 1989, the Constitution was written under the former military government and establishes institutional limits on popular rule. President Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, began his 6-year term in 1994. The National Congress comprises 120 deputies and 47 senators. The government coalition of six parties holds a majority in the lower house. An opposition coalition, together with several independent and eight appointed senators, controls the upper chamber. Under the Constitution, former president General Augusto Pinochet must retire from the army by March 11, 1998. He may then assume his lifetime seat in the Senate, which he has announced he would do. General Pinochet?s appointees continue to influence the constitutionally independent judicial branch. However, turnover in the courts has led to a significant diminution of that influence. The armed forces are constitutionally subordinate to the President through an appointed Minister of Defense but enjoy a large degree of legal autonomy. Most notably, the President must have the concurrence of the National Security Council, which comprises military and civilian officials, to remove service chiefs. The Carabineros (the uniformed national police) have primary responsibility for public order and safety and border security. The civilian Investigations Police are responsible for criminal investigations and immigration control. Both organizations--although formally under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, which determines their budgets--are under operational control of the Ministry of Interior. Some alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses during the military regime remain on active duty in the army. The security forces committed a number of human rights abuses. The export-led, free-market economy experienced its 14th consecutive year of expansion. The most important export remained copper; salmon, forestry products, fresh fruit, fish meal, and manufactured goods were also significant sources of foreign exchange. Gross domestic product grew at a 7.2 percent rate, unemployment increased slightly to 6.5 percent, and inflation fell to 6.6 percent. From 1987 to 1997, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line decreased from 45 to 23 percent, according to a government study released in July. Annual per capita gross domestic product rose to $5,000 in 1996. The Government generally respected its citizens' human rights. However, there continued to be some problem areas. The most serious cases involved allegations of torture, brutality, and use of excessive force by the police. There continued to be reports of physical abuse in jails and prisons. Discrimination and violence against women and violence against children are problems. Many indigenous people remain marginalized. Almost all other human rights concerns are related to abuses during the former military government, primarily between 1973 and 1978. Efforts to bring abusers to justice in cases dating back to the early years of the military government are limited by the conflicting demands for justice and for national reconciliation. Military authorities continued to resist disclosing abuses from the past. In particular, the courts continued to struggle with the application of the 1978 Amnesty Law to cases that occurred during the first 5 years of military rule. Over the past 3 years, the Government and opposition parties debated various proposals that would effectively close all cases covered by the Amnesty Law that are still under judicial investigation. These efforts have largely stalled, and the judicial system continues to investigate and close pending human rights cases.