A United Nations independent expert has urged the Chilean Government to stop applying an anti-terrorism law against its Mapuche indigenous people, who are fighting to recover their ancestral land.
“The anti-terrorism law has been used in a manner that discriminates against the Mapuche,” said the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, at the end of a visit to the country. “It has been applied in a confused and arbitrary fashion that has resulted in real injustice, has undermined the right to a fair trial, and has been perceived as stigmatizing and de-legitimising the Mapuche land claims and protests.”
Mr. Emmerson warned that the situation in the Biobío and Araucanía regions is “extremely volatile” partly due to the misuse of the counter-terrorism legislation within the context of “an inexcusably slow” process of ancestral repatriation.
“In the absence of prompt and effective action at a national level, this situation could very quickly escalate into widespread disorder and violence,” he said in a news release.
The Special Rapporteur said that while there should be no impunity for crimes committed during violent land protests, Chilean prosecutors do not need to resort to anti-terror laws and can instead use ordinary criminal laws to investigate, prosecute and punish violence.
“The anti-terrorism legislation has been disproportionately and unfairly applied against Mapuche defendants, and has been implemented without a coherent policy for distinguishing those cases that meet the threshold test for an act of terrorism and those that do not,” he said.
The Government must also place the Mapuche question as one of the top priorities of the national political dialogue, and urgently promote the adoption of a national strategy on this issue.
“The cornerstone for a national strategy should be the constitutional recognition of the Mapuche’s right to exist as indigenous peoples within the State of Chile, together with the creation by the incoming Government of an adequately staffed and funded ministry for indigenous affairs,” Mr. Emmerson said. “The resolution of this dispute needs to be a political priority for the next incoming Government.”
During his visit, Mr. Emmerson received numerous reports of excessive use of violence by the police against Mapuche communities, some of which had been upheld in judicial proceedings. The allegations included the infliction of gunshot injuries on the elderly, and on women and children. Despite the existence of apparently credible evidence and judicial findings, the expert was informed that no criminal prosecutions had been instituted.
To redress this impunity, Mr. Emmerson recommended the creation of a new independent investigation body with the function of inquiring into crimes of excessive violence committed against Mapuche communities by members of the Carabineros and the investigative police.
“Such a body should be institutionally independent of both forces, should have the power to investigate and to require the prosecution of criminal and disciplinary proceedings where the evidence justifies this,” he said.
While in Chile, Mr. Emmerson also held meetings with various Government officials, public prosecutors, public defenders and high-level members of the investigative police. In addition, he met with victims of rural violence, representatives of the Mapuche community, local landowners and civil society representatives.
Special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. Mr. Emmerson will present his findings and recommendations to the Council in 2014.