Santiago, Jul 21 (EFE).- Amnesty International’s office in Chile on Wednesday urged prosecutors to investigate the high command of the Carabineros national police force over alleged human rights violations committed during widespread civil unrest.
“Duly punishing the (direct) perpetrators of crimes is very important, but it also is essential to investigate the whole chain of command, who due to omission or lack of control … encouraged the serious abuses,” AI Chile’s executive director, Ana Piquer, said.
The London-based rights group said there is an “urgent” need to investigate Carabineros’ current director, Ricardo Yañez, who assumed that post in November 2020; and ex-Director Mario Rozas, who resigned in the wake of several controversial episodes of police violence denounced by organizations such as AI and New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Chile’s most serious social crisis since the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 right-wing military dictatorship began in October 2019 as a protest against a small metro fare hike but quickly turned into a broad social uprising focused on demands for a more equitable economic model.
Around 30 people were killed and thousands were injured in clashes between protesters and the security forces, while innumerable episodes of rioting, arson attacks and looting caused large-scale business losses and damage to infrastructure.
“It’s essential to make strides toward truth, justice and reparations for victims,” AI said, stressing the importance of sending a signal to society as a whole and warning that impunity only increases the likelihood of future human rights violations.
AI’s #InvestigateCommanders campaign was launched just days before a review of the precautionary measures imposed on an ex-police officer accused of carrying out a tear-gas attack that left a woman, Fabiola Campillai, blind in both eyes.
That officer is currently under house arrest.
The cases of Campillai and Gustavo Gatica, who was blinded by police rubber bullets, have served to underscore the violent quelling of protests by Chilean police, whose actions caused 460 people to suffer serious eye injuries, according to Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights.
“These cases show the dramatic consequences for these people and show it doesn’t matter what type of weapons police use if they are used incorrectly and the intention to punish persists,” Piquer said.
AI recalled that the use of anti-riot shotguns was prohibited in November 2019 due to concerns about the composition of the rubber bullets they fired and the Nov. 8, 2019, incident that blinded Gatica.
Nevertheless, that move was followed by a notable increase in the use of 37 mm flares (the weapon used against Campillai on Nov. 26, 2019) to launch tear gas projectiles directly at people’s bodies.
Center-right President Sebastian Piñera, who has repeatedly denied any systematic policy to repress the protests but has acknowledged that human rights violations occurred, has pledged to carry out police reforms.
Amid several months of social unrest in Chile between late 2019 and early 2020, the government agreed to hold a referendum on rewriting a Pinochet-era constitution that critics say is the origin of the copper-rich country’s high levels of inequality.
Chileans overwhelmingly voted last year in favor of a drafting a new constitution.
Elections for the members of the Constitutional Convention were held in May and that body held its first official session earlier this month, the start of a process expected to run until 2022. EFE