(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

A new military petition to close all investigations into past violations was submitted to the Supreme Court. Human rights defenders received death threats. Reports of torture by members of the security forces continued to be received.

In June the Commission of Constitution, Legislation and Justice of the Senate presented a bill on detention of suspects which defines the crime of torture and sets sanctions. By the end of the year the bill was still being debated.

In March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (iachr) made public a resolution of October 1996 concerning four cases of human rights violations committed under the military government of General Augusto Pinochet. The cases of Ricardo Lagos Salinas, Juan Aniceto Meneses Reyes and Pedro José Vergara Inostroza, who "disappeared", and of Juan Alsina, who was killed after being arrested by the security forces, had been closed by civilian and military courts by applying the Amnesty Law decreed during General Pinochet's government. The iachr reiterated that the application of these amnesties constituted a violation of Article 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights. In its recommendations the Commission asked for domestic legislation to be adapted to conform to the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights so that human rights violations by the de facto military government might be investigated and those found responsible effectively punished. It also recommended fair and effective compensation for the families of the four victims.

A bill calling for the abolition of the death penalty brought before the Senate was rejected in June.

In September the Military Prosecutor General presented a new petition to the Supreme Court requesting that it instruct all appeal courts and judges to close legal proceedings concerning hundreds of cases of human rights violations dating from the period of military government (see Amnesty International Report 1997). In October the Supreme Court rejected the request and recommended that courts and judges speed up all pending cases.

Death threats against human rights defenders attempting to uncover past violations committed under the military governmentwerereported.In June, ananonymous caller told Sola Sierra, President of the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, Association of Relatives of Disappeared Prisoners, "now we are really going to kill you, you communist so-and-so". Another two members of the Association received similar threats. Police protection was granted after members of the Association made an official complaint before the Santiago Appeals Court.

Reports of ill-treatment and torture by security forces, including cases involving military conscripts, continued. Following the escape on 30 December 1996 of four political prisoners – all members of the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez, Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front – from the maximum security prison in Santiago, there were reports of reprisals, including ill-treatment of the remaining detainees. A number of prisoners were reportedly beaten by members of the Grupo Especial Antimotines de Gendarmería, the prison guards' anti-riot unit, during cell searches in January. Juan Aliste Vega, Oscar Cruces Espinoza, Carlos Gutiérrez Quiduleo, Carlos Plaza Villaroel and Juan Tapia Olivares reportedly sustained injuries following beatings. Marcos Andrade Sánchez was reported to be passing blood and to have wounds on his forehead, bruising all over the body and four loose teeth. According to reports, members of the anti-riot unit threatened further reprisals if the prisoners submitted complaints about the beatings

In March human remains were found in a cave on Cerro de la Virgen in San Felipe, v Region. They were later confirmed to be those of an 18-year-old military conscript, Pedro Javier Soto Tapia, who had been missing since December 1996. While serving his military service at the Yungay Regiment in San Felipe, Pedro Javier Soto Tapia had informed his parents that he had been subjected to ill-treatment and excessive punishment by his superiors. Claims by the military authorities that he committed suicide were strongly rejected by his relatives. During the investigation into the circumstances of his death, four conscripts were arrested and allegedly tortured during interrogation by army officials. The four – Johnny Pérez Torres, Andrés Serrano Leiva, Dagoberto Contreras Llanes and Guillermo Saavedra Aguilera – were arrested in April and accused of the killing. A parliamentary deputy complained publicly that the four had been beaten, verbally abused, deprived of sleep and threatened in order to extract confessions. Dagoberto Contreras' mother stated that her son had been beaten and was tortured with electric shocks. These allegations were categorically denied by the military authorities. By the end of May, the four conscripts had been released without charge owing to lack of evidence. There was no information as to whether an investigation was initiated into the complaints that they were tortured. The investigation into Pedro Soto Tapia's death had not been concluded by the end of the year

In September it was reported that Alejandro David Uribe Sandoval, an 18-year-old mentally retarded criminal suspect, who was arrested in the locality of San Miguel by carabineros (uniformed police), was tortured. According to his mother, he was beaten, hooded and shot through the hands. He was taken by the police to an emergency care centre for medical attention and subsequently charged with assaulting a police officer by a military court

In January Amnesty International wrote to the authorities expressing concern at reports of ill-treatment of political prisoners at the maximum security prison in Santiago. The organization asked that access be given to independent doctors to check the state of health of those held in isolation. Amnesty International reminded the authorities of the recommendation, made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture following his 1995 visit (see Amnesty International Report 1997), that detainees be given prompt access to medical attention as a preventive measure against ill-treatment. No reply was received. In March and April, Amnesty International expressed concern about allegations that Pedro Javier Soto Tapia had been ill-treated, and asked for a prompt and impartial investigation to officially identify the exhumed body and to establish the whereabouts of Pedro Javier Soto Tapia. The authorities replied that an investigation was taking place. Amnesty International expressed concern at reports that the four conscripts had been tortured. No information was forthcoming concerning these allegations. In June the authorities responded concerning five individual cases of torture (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The communication indicated that the allegations had been investigated by the carabineros and found to be unsubstantiated. No independent inquiry was known to have been carried out

In November Amnesty International publicly called on the Chilean authorities to cooperate with the Spanish authorities in trials initiated by the Spanish National Court in connection with "disappearances" that took place under the military government.

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