New legal proceedings on past human rights violations were initiated in Chile and abroad. Scores of human rights defenders received death threats. Detainees were reportedly ill-treated and tortured by the security forces; one person allegedly died as a result. There were reports of excessive use of force by the police. One death sentence was passed and subsequently commuted.

In March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recommended the repeal of the 1978 Amnesty Law (see Amnesty International Report 1998) after concluding, for the third time, that it was "incompatible with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights". The IACHR also concluded that the dismissal of past "disappearance" cases by courts applying the Amnesty Law, "not only aggravated the situation of impunity, but also doubtlessly violated the right to justice".

In July new legislation was passed on the detention of suspects which introduced, among other measures, sanctions of up to 10 years' imprisonment for the crime of torture (see Amnesty International Report 1998). The crimes of vagrancy and begging were removed from the penal code.

In September Chile signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In January, two criminal complaints were filed against the Head of the Army, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, for human rights violations committed between 1973 and 1990, during his military government. In March General Pinochet stepped down as Head of the Army and became a senator for life according to provisions of the Constitution passed under his government.

In October former General Pinochet was arrested in London, the United Kingdom (UK), at the request of a Spanish judge (see Spain entry) on charges of gross human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, committed during his government.

The Chilean authorities argued that he had diplomatic and parliamentary immunity and rejected the legal procedures against him on the grounds that the judicial system in Chile was able to investigate and judge alleged crimes committed in its territory. Requests for extradition of former General Pinochet were filed by the Spanish, French, Swiss and Belgian governments. By the end of the year, 17 criminal complaints filed against former General Pinochet for past human rights violations were under investigation by the Court of Appeals in Santiago. In November the Supreme Court rejected the government's petition for the appointment of a special supreme court judge to investigate the complaints.

At the end of October the UK High Court ruled that former General Pinochet had immunity from prosecution as a former head of state. An appeal against this decision was filed before the House of Lords, which in November reversed the High Court judgment. A request for former General Pinochet's extradition to Spain was filed before the UK authorities, on charges of crimes against humanity committed against over 3,000 victims during his military government. The crimes included genocide, widespread and systematic torture, and "disappearances". At the beginning of December the UK Home Secretary authorized the extradition proceedings to continue. Later the same month, following a challenge to the composition of the judicial panel, on the basis of links between one of the Law Lords and Amnesty International Charity Limited, the initial ruling was set aside; a new panel of the House of Lords was scheduled to reconsider the case in early 1999. Former General Pinochet remained under police guard in the UK at the end of the year while the legal proceedings continued.

Following the arrest of former General Pinochet in October, scores of human rights defenders and relatives of victims of past human rights violations were subjected to death threats and harassment. Among those who received anonymous death threats were José Balmes; former political prisoners, including Hector Reinaldo Pavelic, a journalist, and four members of the San Martín family; and members of the Communist Party, including Gladys Marín, its Secretary General. In December staff members of the Corporación de Promoción y defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo, Committee for the Promotion and Defence of the Rights of the People, were threatened, allegedly by the Frente Nacionalista Patria y Libertad, Country and Freedom National Front, a right-wing group that used to operate during the early years of the military government.

There were reports that detainees were tortured by Carabineros (uniformed police). In January the brothers Luis and Orlando Vásquez Ramirez were reportedly arrested at their home in Santiago, beaten and threatened with death by Carabineros. They were transferred to the Sección de Investigaciones Policiales (SIP), Police Investigations Unit, where Luis Vásquez Ramirez was allegedly handcuffed and hung from an iron bar while Orlando Vásquez Ramirez was subjected to electric shocks on the anus and lips.

One detainee died, allegedly as a result of torture. Raúl Palma Salgado, a taxi driver, was arrested in January by Carabineros and taken to the SIP. A few hours later he was transferred to hospital where he died as a result of respiratory failure. According to the autopsy, he had facial bruises and a fractured spine. Four members of the SIP were reportedly discharged from the police service in connection with the death of Raúl Palma Salgado, and legal proceedings were initiated in the Sixth Military Court. Luis Vásquez Ramirez was reportedly detained at the same place as Raúl Palma Salgado and was a witness in the case. Investigations into the case had not concluded by the end of the year.

In September marches in Santiago to mark the 25th anniversary of the military coup led by General Pinochet were met with large-scale repression by Carabineros. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested. Some were allegedly ill-treated in custody. Several demonstrators were injured and two people were killed in disputed circumstances. Claudia Alejandra Benaiges was reportedly shot in the back in La Pincoya district, Santiago. A group of Carabineros reportedly approached her as she lay on the ground, but did not help her. Neighbours called the emergency services and she was taken to a medical centre, but died before arrival. Complaints were lodged and investigations were reportedly initiated into the incidents, but had not been completed by the end of the year.

In April Juan Zenón Soto Campos was sentenced to death by the Third Penal Court in Concepción for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in June 1996. In December the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

In December the Military Court confirmed the life sentences of three political prisoners and acquitted two others (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997). The five men, who had faced possible death sentences, were the subject of further proceedings on separate charges at the end of the year.

Amnesty International raised concerns with the authorities about reports of torture and ill-treatment by Carabineros and the death of Raúl Palma Salgado. The organization also expressed concern at reports of excessive use of force by the security forces and death threats against human rights defenders and relatives of victims of past human rights violations. It called for a thorough and independent investigation into all reported cases of human rights violations and for effective protection for those subjected to threats. The organization also expressed concern at the imposition of death sentences.

In May an Amnesty International delegation visited Chile and met senior officials, including some at ministerial level, to present the organization's concerns. The delegates called for cooperation with the Spanish legal proceedings, the annulment of the 1978 Amnesty Law, and the abolition of the death penalty. In October the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to Amnesty International providing details already known on the measures taken by successive civilian governments to clarify past human rights violations.

Amnesty International published several reports on human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, committed during the military government of former General Pinochet. They included Argentina and Chile: The international community's responsibility regarding crimes against humanity – trials in Spain for crimes against humanity under military regimes in Argentina and Chile, which examined the responsibility of states under international law to bring those accused of systematic or widespread torture and other crimes against humanity to justice before national courts.

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