U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Chile

CHILE   Chile is a multiparty democracy with a Constitution which provides for a strong executive, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. Approved by referendum in 1980, the Constitution was written under the former military government and establishes institutional limits on popular rule. President Eduardo Frei leads the Christian Democratic party, which, in coalition with five other parties, won the 1994 elections. The National Congress comprises 120 deputies and 46 senators. The government coalition holds a majority in the lower house. An opposition coalition, together with several independent and eight appointed senators, controls the upper chamber. Appointees of the former President, General Augusto Pinochet, continue to influence the constitutionally independent judicial branch. However, turnover in the courts has led to a steady 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 to remove service chiefs. The Carabineros (the uniformed 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 organizationsÚÚalthough formally under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, which determines their budgetÚÚare under operational control of the Minister of Interior. The security forces committed a number of instances of human rights abuses. Some alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses during the military regime remain on active duty in the army. The market-based economy experienced its 12th consecutive year of expansion. The most important export was copper; forestry products, fresh fruit, fish meal, and manufactured goods were also significant sources of foreign exchange. Gross domestic product grew more than 6 percent, unemployment declined to 5.4 percent, and inflation fell for the fifth consecutive year to under 8 percent. These factors have contributed to an improved standard of living, although the disparity in income distribution leaves 28 percent of the population below the poverty line. According to the most recent figures (1994), there were over 400,000 fewer people living below the poverty level than in 1992. Annual per capita income has risen to $4,500. During the year there were few new cases of human rights abuse. The Government generally respected its citizens' human rights. However, there continued to be some problem areas. The most serious cases involve instances of police brutality. Members of the police forces have been charged by some local human rights activists with excessive use of force leading to extrajudicial killings. There continue to be reports of physical abuse in jails and prisons; military authorities continue to resist disclosing abuses from the past. 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 that occurred during the former military government, primarily between 1973 and 1978. In May the Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences of retired General Manuel Contreras and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza for instigating the 1976 murders in the United States of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his U.S. citizen assistant Ronni Moffitt. Contreras was the chief of DINA, the intelligence branch of the army during the military regime. These 2 prisoners were later joined by 10 other former officials of the military government convicted for a variety of human rights abuses. Efforts to uphold justice in the cases dating back to the early years of the military Government are limited by the conflicting requirements for justice and national reconciliation. In particular, the courts continue to struggle with the application of the 1978 amnesty law to cases that occurred during the first 5 years of military rule. The judicial system continues to investigate, with mixed success, a number of other pending human rights cases.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings. One individual was killed while in the custody of the police. The Committee for the Defense of the Peoples' Rights (CODEPU) reports that at least eight other individuals died as a result of the excessive use of force by the Carabineros against criminals or suspects fleeing the scene of a crime or resisting arrest. These deaths received wide media coverage, and a majority of the cases are under investigation by the courts. The courts sentenced one police official to 5 years in jail for killing a woman in 1992 while under the influence of alcohol. Several landmark decisions were made during the year on cases which occurred under the military regime. In the most widely recognized case, the Supreme Court upheld on May 30 Justice Adolfo Banados' sentencing of Retired General Manuel Contreras and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza to 7- and 6-year prison terms, respectively, as the intellectual authors of the 1976 murder in Washington, D.C. of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his U.S. citizen assistant, Ronni Moffitt. Brigadier Espinoza surrendered in June to the authorities to begin his sentence. After legal attempts to avoid being moved to prison were rejected by the courts, Contreras was finally transferred on October 20 to the high-security Punta Peuco prison (see Section 1.c.), joining Brigadier Espinoza as the second military officer to be jailed for actions taken during the 17 years of military rule. Contreras' move to a naval hospital attracted international attention and set off a vigorous domestic debate concerning the equality of military officers under the law. In December the Supreme Court closed the investigative phase of the 1976 murder of Carmelo Soria, a Spanish citizen employed by the United Nations. All that remains is for the judge to decide whether or not to apply the 1978 Amnesty Law to this case or to convict the two ex-agents of the National Intelligence Center (CNI), the successor to DINA, who were indicted in June as author and accomplice in this crime. The difficulty in this case lies in the possibility that Soria, as a U.N. employee, may have enjoyed international protected person status and, if so, the case cannot be covered by the 1978 law. In October the Supreme Court applied the Amnesty Law to the case of the detention and disappearance of two Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) members, Barbara Uribe and Edwin van Yurik. Authorities released ex-DINA agent Osvaldo Romo and dismissed charges against him. The two MIR members had been detained by the security forces in July 1974 and are now presumed dead. The sister of Barbara Uribe has requested that the case be extended to cover three more officials that were possibly involved in this crime. The appeals court is expected to apply the Amnesty Law to the 1974 murder of MIR activist Lumi Videla. The Supreme Court review of the case involving the 1982 murder of Tucapel Jimenez is still in the preliminary hearing stage. In August the appellate court of La Serena (a city to the north of Santiago) ruled that retired army Major Carlos Herrera (defendant in the Tucapel Jimenez case) and ex-Carabinero noncommissioned officer Armando Cabrera were guilty of unnecessary violence in 1984 which resulted in the death of the political militant Mario Fernandez. Fernandez was arrested and tortured to death while in the custody of CNI. The Government will pay his family 100 million pesos ($263,000). The two ex-security agents, who are currently under military detention, were sentenced to 10 and 6 years' imprisonment, respectively. These men are also facing charges of murder in another case dating from the military regime. After more than 8 years and three previous refusals to consider the case, the military courts decided that the June 1987 deaths from the so-called "Operation Albania" were homicides. In that incident, CNI agents killed 12 people connected to the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR). At the time, the authorities claimed that all 12 died in shoot-outs with security officers, and therefore no crime was committed. This decision to declare the deaths to be homicides will allow the case to be brought before the civilian courts. The lawyer in the case requested a special judge. Twenty-eight former officers and enlisted men are implicated in this case. The last appeal of army captain Pedro Fernandez was denied by the Supreme Court on December 6. He had been found guilty of the death by burning of Rodrigo Rojas and the serious disfigurement of Carmen Gloria Quintana in July 1986. He has been sentenced to 600 days in prison and will be sent to Punta Peuco prison in the near future. In November the Supreme Court sentenced 15 ex-Carabinero officers and 1 civilian for the abduction and murder of 3 Communists in 1985. Five were sentenced to life imprisonment; the others received sentences ranging from 15 years to 41 days. Eight of the officers have been transferred to Punta Peuco prison. Retired Carabinero captain Hector Diaz was transferred to Punta Peuco prison on December 13, where he will serve a sentence of 3 years and 1 day. Diaz was convicted by the military courts for the death of the Socialist student Carlos Godoy. The youth had been detained for questioning by the Carabineros and subsequently died during interrogation.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. The major human rights controversy of 1995 involved past "disappearances" and efforts by all political forces and the Government to reinterpret the 1978 Amnesty in such a way as to achieve both justice and national reconciliation. As interpreted under the so-called "Aylwin Doctrine" (named after former President Patricio Aylwin), the courts should not close a case involving a disappearance (those who disappeared are considered to have been "kidnaped") until either the bodies are found or credible evidence is provided to indicate that an individual is dead. This could affect up to 542 cases which cover about 1,100 persons still classified as "detained or missing" from the early years of the military regime. The application of the Aylwin Doctrine, however, has been uneven, as some courts (mostly military) continued the previous practice of applying the 1978 Amnesty to disappearances without conducting an investigation to identify the perpetrators. Fourteen cases were closed this year through application of the amnesty, 186 cases are active, and an additional 356 cases are temporarily closed but subject to being reopened. In a surprise decision, the Supreme Court decided unanimously on December 5 not to apply the Amnesty Law in the case of two Mapuche peasants who were detained by security forces in 1974 and never seen again. Two ex-Carabineros and one civilian were given sentences of 4 and 1/2 years in prison, plus fines of approximately $12,000 (5 million pesos) each for the abduction of the 16- and 39-year-old men. This is the first time a disappearance case was declared outside the 1973-78 limits of the Amnesty Law. The decision declared that the abductions were permanent "criminal offenses that continue after the actions themselves," thus beyond the time period covered by the amnesty. Four disappearance cases that were closed with the fate of the victims still unknown have been appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, where they were still pending at year's end. Some progress has been made in locating a number of those who disappeared. By the end of the year, 100 of 125 bodies that had been buried in an unmarked grave were identified. It was determined that they died in 1973 during the first months of the military regime. The remains of three bodies were discovered in early December on the grounds of a military camp situated 25 miles north of Santiago. The identities of the deceased have yet to be determined, but it is fairly certain that they perished about 20 years ago. It is widely suspected that the 3 are part of the 1,100 victims from the 1973-78 period. The Supreme Court denied a request for a special prosecutor to determine the facts of the case; therefore, it remains in the hands of the military authorities. There are suspicions that a large number of bodies were buried in military precincts, but the military authorities refuse access to these areas, thus preventing the possible closure of a number of these cases.

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

The Constitution forbids "the use of illegal pressure" on detainees, but CODEPU has received reports of instances of mistreatment and abuse by some Carabinero and Investigations Police units. CODEPU lawyers visit detainees during their interrogation (see Section 1.d.) and represent many suspected terrorists in court. CODEPU alleged that during a 1 1/2 year period that ended in August, there were 38 cases of torture by Carabineros, 11 by members of the Investigations Police, and 2 by members of other entities. The Minister of Interior normally asks the courts to conduct independent investigations of credible complaints of police abuse, but such investigations rarely result in arrests, due in part to the reluctance of judges, many of them appointed by the military regime, to pursue the issue vigorously. However, as indicated in the CODEPU report, police authorities often impose administrative sanctions on abusive officers without waiting for a judicial ruling. Prisons are overcrowded and antiquated, but the conditions are not life threatening. Food meets minimal nutritional needs, and prisoners may supplement the diet by buying food. Those with sufficient funds can often rent space in a better wing of the prison. Although prison guards have been accused of using excessive force to stop attempted prison breaks, the guards generally behave responsibly and do not mistreat prisoners. The maximum security prison houses 81 prisoners, most of them charged with or convicted of terrorism. Prisoners continue to complain that strict security measures, prohibition on visitors, hidden cameras, and the extremely rigid regulations violate their rights. In June a new prison at Punta Peuco, 25 miles north of Santiago, was completed. At year's end it had 12 inmates including Brigadier Pedro Espinoza and recently arrived retired General Manuel Contreras (see Section 1.a.). This prison was constructed specifically for government and military officials sentenced to jail and reportedly would allow for privileged and exclusive treatment for these prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution allows civilian and military courts to order detention for up to 5 days without arraignment and to extend the detention for up to 10 days of suspected terrorists. The law affords detainees 30 minutes of immediate and daily access to a lawyer (in the presence of a prison guard) and to a doctor to verify their physical condition. The law does not permit a judge to deny such access; police authorities generally observed these requirements. As of February, 9 percent of the general prison population were under investigation but not charged with a crime, 50 percent were charged with an offense and were awaiting trial or sentencing, and 41 percent were serving sentences. The police have the authority to make arrests based on suspicion, particularly of youth in high crime areas late at night. In practice, the detainees are not promptly advised of charges against them, nor are they granted a speedy hearing before a judge. The Constitution provides for the right to legal counsel, but this is a fact only for those who can afford to pay. The poor, who account for the majority of cases, may be represented by law students doing practical training (who are often overworked) or, on occasion, by a court appointed lawyer. Arrest procedures do not require police to allow detainees to telephone relatives or lawyer. The Constitution allows judges to set bail. There were no cases of forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution calls for a judicial system independent of the other branches of Government. Cases decided in the lower courts can be referred to the appeals courts, and ultimately to the Supreme Court. Although the judiciary, and particularly the Supreme Court, has been dominated by appointees of the former military regime, the passage of time is changing this legacy. Criminal court judges are appointed for life, and appointments to the Supreme Court and the appeals courts are made by the President from lists prepared by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court continues to work with the other branches of Government on broad judicial reform. The jurisdiction of military tribunals is limited to cases involving military officers. If formal charges are filed in civilian courts against a military officer, including Carabineros, the military prosecutor asks, and the Supreme Court normally grants, jurisdiction to the military. This is of particular consequence in the human rights cases dating from 1973 to 1978, the period covered by the 1978 Amnesty Law. Based on the Napoleonic Code, the judicial system does not provide for trial by jury, nor does it assume innocence until proven otherwise. Criminal proceedings are inquisitorial rather than adversarial. On November 7, Sergio Buschmann, an inmate of the high-security prison whom the Social Aid Foundation of Christian Churches (FASIC) had counted as the one political prisoner, was released on bail. Buschman, a professional actor and ex-leader of the Marxist FPMR, was arrested in 1986 for his part in smuggling arms into the country. He subsequently escaped, went into exile, and became an international spokesman for the Communist cause. Buschmann returned to his home country to face charges in 1994. Claiming that he was unjustly imprisoned for political, instead of criminal offenses, Buschmann continued to be the object of much world-wide attention. CODEPU reports seven political prisoners: these individuals have been convicted for crimes related to terrorist acts; some have appeals pending.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanctions. A new privacy law, promulgated on November 20, bars obtaining and dissemination of information by undisclosed taping, telephone intercepts, and other surreptitious means.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the authorities generally respected these rights in practice. The press maintains its independence, criticizes the Government, and covers issues sensitive to the military, including human rights. The new privacy law will also apply to the media, which are not exempt from its provisions (see Section 1.f.) There is academic freedom. The print and electronic media are largely independent of government control. The State is majority owner of La Nacion newspaper, but the newspaper is editorially independent. The Television Nacional network is state owned but not under direct government control. It receives no government subsidy and is self-financing through the sale of air time. It is editorially independent and is governed by a board of directors which, although politically appointed, encourages "pluralistic expression" through the network. Military courts have the authority to charge and try civilians for defamation of military personnel and for sedition, but their rulings can be appealed to the Supreme Court. A draft press law, building on one proposed by the Aylwin Government in 1993, would transfer cases involving freedom of speech (including charges of defamation and sedition) for nonmilitary personnel from military to civilian courts. As the bill moved from the House to the Senate, it remained the subject of considerable controversy, with press organs arguing that some of its provisions may undermine aspects of freedom of expression (e.g., by mandating right of reply and limiting concentration of media ownership). A former cabinet member was charged with defaming "state institutions" after he claimed that unidentified members of Congress used drugs. A Socialist Youth leader was also charged with defamation after publicly making derogatory remarks about public officials. It is a criminal offense in Chile to besmirch the honor of state institutions and symbols, such as the Congress, the military services, the flag, and the President. The courts rarely issued orders prohibiting media coverage of cases in progress, although several instances were reported, usually in cases of violent crime. The law does not set any limits on a judge's power to impose such prohibitions nor does it require the reasons for the ban to be cited. In a widely noted case involving charges against three Carabineros for robbery and other crimes, the judge banned the media, explaining that coverage might impair the ongoing investigation. The judge also asserted that journalism has become a kind of aid for delinquents, stating that it is unpleasant to work with such limited resources and to have that work further complicated by a right to information. A celebrated 1993 slander case against Francisco Martorell for his book "Diplomatic Impunity" resurfaced when he was sentenced on five counts of slander against prominent figures. Martorell remains in self-imposed exile in Argentina.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and there have been no reports of violations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. All denominations practice their faiths without restriction. A recent municipal ordinance made it illegal to cause disturbances in the streets, which has been interpreted by some evangelical groups as an attempt to prevent them from proselytizing and preaching in public. Although church and state are officially separate, the Roman Catholic Church receives official preferential treatment.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice. For minor children to leave the country, either alone or with one of their parents, they must have notarized permission from both parents. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status.

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

Chile is a constitutional democracy, and citizens have the right to change their government through periodic elections. There is universal suffrage for citizens 18 years of age and over. The current Government still operates under some political restraints that were imposed by the previous regime. Under the 1980 Constitution, various national institutions, including the President, the Supreme Court, and the armed forces-dominated National Security Council, appointed an additional nine senators (beyond those elected) to 8-year terms prior to the transition to democracy. In effect, these senators were hand-picked by General Pinochet, and they join with the opposition on most matters. The legislative branch, with the exception of the nine institutional senators, is freely elected and independent from the executive branch. The former military government wrote the 1980 Constitution and amended it slightly in 1989 after losing a referendum on whether President Pinochet should stay in office. It provides for a strong presidency and a legislative branch with limited powers. In addition, the Constitution includes provisions designed to protect the interests of the military and the rightwing political opposition. These provisions, according to their defenders and even some critics, assured stability in the political process during the transition. Some of these provisions are characterized by the government coalition as "authoritarian enclaves" left over from the previous regime; while the right of center opposition describes them as integral to the system of checks and balances. They include limitations on the President's right to remove service chiefs, including chief of the army (the position which General Pinochet can hold until 1998), an electoral system that gives a minority party (or coalition) disproportionate representation in Congress, and the provision for nonelected institutional senators. Women have had the right to vote in municipal elections since 1934 and in national elections since 1949, and they are active in political life at the grassroots level. Women make up a majority of registered voters and of those who actually cast ballots, but there are few women in leadership positions. There are 9 women among the 120 deputies, 3 women among the 46 senators, and 3 women among the 21 cabinet ministers. Chile's over 1 million indigenous people have the legal right to participate freely in the political process, although relatively few are politically active. While their participation has increased since the 1990 democratic transition, there is only one member of Congress of indigenous descent. In 1994 the Government created the National Corporation for Indigenous Development and placed it under the Planning Ministry; in 1995, indigenous people elected their representatives to this body.

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

The Chilean Human Rights Commission is affiliated with the International League of Human Rights and continues to gather evidence of police abuses. The Committee for the Defense of the People's Rights (CODEPU) provides legal counsel to those accused of politically related crimes and to victims of human rights abuses. Nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) say that the Government has cooperated with their efforts to investigate accusations of continued human rights violations. Many international NGO's also continue to follow closely human rights issues. The National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation issued a report in 1991 which helped many Chileans come to terms with human rights abuses under the military Government. The successor to the Commission, the National Corporation for Compensation and Reconciliation, continues to investigate cases. In December its mandate was again extended to the end of 1996 to allow it to complete investigations of the last of 2,188 individual cases of human rights abuses on which it has information. The corporation also provides compensation to family members of human rights victims.

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

The Constitution provides for equality before the law, but it does not specifically ban discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or social status. There are no laws preventing gays or lesbians from exercising freedom of speech or other rights. In practice, however, homosexuality is widely rejected by almost all segments of society.


The public is only beginning to appreciate the extent of abuses such as wife beating. The National Women's Service (SERNAM), created in 1991 to combat discrimination against women, found that 26.2 percent of women it surveyed said that they had been subjected to some form of physical violence by their husband or partner while another 33.5 percent reported some form of psychological abuse. However, only 16 percent reported such violence to the police. SERNAM is now conducting courses on the legal, medical, and psychological aspects of domestic violence for Carabineros, who are usually the first public officials to intervene in such incidents. Counseling is ordered by the courts for those involved in intrafamily violence. There were 3,297 cases reported to the Carabineros Family Affairs Unit in Santiago. In 151 of those cases, men claimed that they were abused by their spouses. Carabineros also reported that the Family Affairs Unit received more than 2,700 complaints of rape or sexual abuse during the year. Legal distinctions between the sexes still exist, despite a decision in 1989 to ratify the U.N. Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and to give human rights treaties to which Chile is a party precedence over local laws. The law permits legal separation, but not divorce, so those who wish to remarry need to seek annulments. Since annulment implies that a marriage never existed under the law, former wives are left with little recourse for financial support. Although a recent law created conjugal property as an option in a marriage, some women actually saw this as a step backward, since the law on separate property (which still exists) gives women the right to one-half their husbands' assets but gives husbands no rights to theirs. Another SERNAM study found that the average earnings of female heads of household are only 71 percent of those of male heads of household. Women with no schooling received a salary that was 87 percent of that of their male counterparts without schooling, while women heads of household with university training earned only 57 percent as much as their male contemporaries. SERNAM has a pilot program providing occupational training and child care in an effort to alleviate this form of discrimination.


The Congress enacted a law that segregates juvenile offenders from adult prisoners. Although juvenile offenders (i.e. those under age 18) had long received special treatment in the courts, some of them had been incarcerated with adults. A survey by the National Minors Service (SENAME) indicated that sexual abuse of minors occurred but that few cases were reported. A United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report shows that 34 percent of children under 12 experience serious physical violence, though only 3.2 percent of the victims of intrafamily violence reported to the Carabineros Family Affairs Unit were minors below the age of 18. The new Law on Intrafamily Violence was designed in part to deal with this problem. UNICEF estimates that 107,616 children between 12 and 19 years of age were in the work force. The majority of these were males from single parent families who worked more than 40 hours per week and did not attend school.

People with Disabilities

Congress passed a law in 1994 to promote the integration of people with disabilities into society, and the National Fund for the Handicapped (FONDIS) has a $1.5 million budget. The 1992 census found that 288,000 citizens said that they had some form of disability, but FONDIS estimates that the actual number is closer to 1 million. The disabled still suffer some forms of legal discrimination; for example, blind people cannot become teachers or tutors. Although the law now requires that new public buildings provide access for the disabled, the public transportation system does not make provision for wheelchair access, and even a new subway line under construction provides no facilitated access for the disabled. Reserved parking for the disabled is becoming more common.

Indigenous People

The Mapuches from southern Chile comprise over 90 percent of the indigenous population, but there are small Aimara, Atacameno, Huilliche, Rapa Nui, and Kawaskhar populations in other parts of the country. A committee composed of representatives of indigenous groups participated in drafting the 1993 law that recognized the ethnic diversity of the indigenous population and gave indigenous people a voice in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions. It provides for eventual bilingual education in schools with indigenous populations, and replaced a statute which emphasized assimilation of indigenous people. However, out of the population which identifies itself as indigenous (nearly 1 million, according to the 1992 census), about half remain separated from the rest of society, largely because of historical, cultural, educational, and geographical factors. In fact, the ability of indigenous people to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources is marginal at best.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Chile assimilated a major European (mainly German) migration in the last century and a major Middle Eastern and Croatian migration in the early part of this century. Smaller racial and ethnic minority groups experience some intolerance.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have a right to form unions without prior authorization and to join existing unions; 13.7 percent of the work force is organized. A recently enacted law provides government employee associations with the same rights as trade unions, and the associations' committees have drafted implementing regulations. Only the police and military are not allowed to form unions. The 1992 Labor Code permits nationwide labor centrals, and the Unified Workers Central (CUT), the largest and most representative of them legalized its status in April 1992. CUT and many other labor confederations and federations maintain ties to international labor organizations. Unions are independent of the Government, but union leaders are usually elected from lists based on party affiliation and maintain ties to their parties. Reforms to the Labor Code in 1990 removed some significant restrictions on the right to strike, although others remain. For example, employers may no longer fire striking workers without paying severance benefits. Employers must show cause to fire workers, but "needs of the company" is a permissible cause. Union leaders claim that some employers invoke this clause to fire employees who are attempting to form unions or who are active in collective bargaining. There are no statistics on the number of cases in which needs of the company have been invoked by employers to fire workers for prounion activities. However, such acts and antiunion discrimination in general are illegal under the law.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although the climate for collective bargaining has improved since the return to democratic government in 1990, most workers continue to negotiate individual contracts. Employers say that this is due to the emphasis that workers put on individual performance, but union leaders say that the Labor Code prevents many sectors from organizing. Employers may also include a clause in individual employment contracts that some classes of employees are not allowed to participate in collective bargaining, although this supposedly applies only to supervisory personnel. Employees may object to the inclusion of such clauses in their contracts and may appeal to the Ministry of Labor for their excision. The Ministry is able to arbitrate about half of the complaints it receives. Workers are free to take unarbitrated cases before the courts and, if they succeed in proving they were fired unjustly, the employer must pay the discharged employees twice their normal severance payment. There are no statistics available concerning the disposition of complaints of antiunion behavior. There are allegations that employers fire workers for prounion activity and attempt to avoid a complaint by immediately paying them twice the normal severance pay. Temporary workersÚÚdefined in the Labor Code as agriculture, construction, port workers, and entertainersÚÚmay now form unions, but their right to collective bargaining remains dependent on employers agreeing to negotiate with unions of temporary workers. The Labor Code provides sanctions for unfair bargaining practices that protect workers from dismissal during the bargaining process, but labor leaders claim that companies invoke the needs of the company clause to fire workers after a union has signed a new contract, particularly when negotiations result in a prolonged strike. The same labor laws apply in the duty free zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution and the Labor Code prohibit forced or compulsory labor, and there is no indication that it is currently practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law allows children between the ages of 15 and 18 to work with the express permission of their parents or guardians. Children 14 years old may also work legally with such permission, but in addition they must have completed their elementary education, and the work involved may not be physically strenuous or unhealthy. Additional provisions in the law protect workers under 18 years by restricting the types of work open to them (for example, they may not work in nightclubs) and by establishing special conditions of work (they may not work more than 8 hours in one day). Labor inspectors enforce these regulations and compliance is good in the formal economy. Many children are employed in the informal economy, however, which is difficult to regulate.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards. The legal workweek is 48 hours which can be worked in either 5 or 6 days. The maximum workday length is 10 hours, but a few positions like caretakers and domestic servants are exempted. All workers enjoy at least one 24-hour rest period during the workweek save for workers at high altitudes who voluntarily exchange a workfree day each week for a number of consecutive workfree days every 2 weeks. A tripartite committee comprising government, employer, and labor representatives normally suggests a minimum wage based on projected future inflation and increases in productivity. Congress approved the Government's proposal with little dissent, setting the minimum monthly wage at about $149 (58,600 pesos), which came into effect in April. The minimum wage is adjusted annually. This wage is designed to serve as the starting wage for an unskilled laborer entering the labor force for the first time. About 8 percent of the work force earn the minimum wage. Ministry of Labor inspectors enforce laws covering working conditions. The Government has increased resources for inspections and targeted industries guilty of the worst abuses. As a result, enforcement is improving, and voluntary compliance is fairly good. Insurance mutuals provide workmen's compensation and occupational safety training for the private and public sectors. They reported a 24-percent decline in occupational injuries over the past 5 years, although 11 percent of the work force still submitted claims. Workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger their health and safety have their employment protected, provided they ask a workers' delegate to bring the problem to the attention of labor inspectors.

This 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.