University of Minnesota

Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.34, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Chile, Doc. 21 corr. 1 (1974).





1. This report sets forth and evaluates the findings of the Commission during its “on-the-spot” observations in the Republic of Chile, July 22 – August 2, 1974, with respect to the general status of human rights in that country.

Nothing in the report implies in any way a prejudgment with respect to the individual cases which are now being processed by the Commission as a result of denunciations or complaints regarding particular situations and/or persons, and which will be specifically and concretely decided upon in due course upon completion of the relevant procedures. Everything in the report refers to the general status of human rights in Chile during the exact period in which the Commission's visit took place.

With regard to the latter point, it should be noted that Chapter XVIII of this document deals with events and measures relating to this topic, which occurred or were adopted in Chile subsequent to that period.

2. This report cannot, nor does it seek to, make a comparative study of the political systems that have succeeded each other in Chile in recent years, or to make a political evaluation of those systems. This entire area is outside the competence given this Commission by its statutes and is entirely foreign to the desire and intent of its members. While the regime that was overthrown on September 11, 1973 was in power, neither the number nor the seriousness of the complaints or denunciations received by the Commission regarding violations of human rights in Chile were considered as grounds making it necessary to request the consent of the Government of that country to conduct an “on-the-spot” examination of the situation. Consequently, the Commission is not in a position to pass judgment on the degree to which basic human rights were protected in that period. Of course, no valid conclusion can be drawn from the fact that no multiple or serious denunciations concerning disregard for human rights were transmitted to the Commission in that period. It is merely pointed out that such was the case. Hence, this report does not seek to make comparisons: it is the result of objective examination, in a particular political-social situation, of one single topic, which is, whether human rights are actually observed and protected. It is not for the Commission to decide whether the present political regime is more or less desirable than the previous regime. Only the citizens of Chile, acting freely, can validly pass judgment on that.

3. This report is organized as follows: After relating the background of the Commission's visit to Chile, it begins by transcribing the accounts prepared by groups of its members, or by any member designated for the purpose, regarding each of the actions in the field: visits to detention sites, interrogation of persons, receipt of complaints and denunciations, examination of existing legislation, study of dossiers, attending trials, etc. When reference is made to statements of detained persons, particularly denunciations of physical or psychological torture, particulars are usually omitted for obvious reasons, unless the persons concerned have expressly authorized disclosure of their identity. Of course, the Commission's files contain summaries of their statements with complete identification and, in many cases, the tapes of their statements. Chapter XVI summarizes the main general facts, which the Commission considers reasonably proved, and indicates which provisions of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man have therefore been violated.

4. During the Commission's stay in Chile, it did not observe anything resembling a “state of war,” notwithstanding what might have occurred previously. Neither in Santiago nor outside Santiago—and members of the Commission traveled between Antofagasta and Talcahuano—did the Commission observe street disorders, acts of violence committed by groups of civilians, attacks against the armed forces, insubordination against their orders, or anything of the kind. Some of the Commission members witnessed numerous operations carried out by the police, in which groups of persons in recreation areas in the center of the city were detained. Excessive presence of police or military elements or an exaggerated show of arms in the streets of the cities and towns was not noted. A normal observer would not have imagined that he was in a country in a “state of war.” The curfew, which was in effect only from one to six a.m. is hardly a problem for anyone besides “night owls” and a very few workers.

5. It must be added that, while the Commission did not ascertain the existence of acts characteristic of a “state of war,” it was obvious that the country was not in an entirely normal situation. A political system that was considered by many Chileans as violating human rights has been overthrown by force of arms. A new “the facto” regime, which was obviously not supported by the majority of the followers of the regime that was replaced, was undertaking the task of consolidating a new order.

Such circumstances are not the most propitious for fully respecting human rights: governments, whether those of regular origin that are attacked, or those that reach power through a revolutionary movement, are forced in such convulsive periods to suspend certain guarantees, and this is inevitably detrimental to the rights that such guarantees are intended to protect.

Law—whether domestic or international—does not ignore such realities. It weighs them fairly and gives solutions for dealing with them, while adequately evaluating the good that is endangered. With respect to American international law—which is the normative system that the Commission must take primarily into account—it must be understood that, in the absence of conventional standards in force in this area, the “most accepted doctrine” is that which is set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, also called the Pac of San José, Costa Rica, which has been signed by twelve American countries (among them Chile), and whose ratification has already begun.

The Convention contains an express provision in Article 27 establishing to what extent a state may restrict the protection of human rights in exceptional circumstances, such as war. The text reads as follows:

Article 27. Suspension of Guarantees

1. In time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of a State Party, it may take measures derogating from its obligations under the present Convention to the extent and for the period of time strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination on the ground of race, color, sex, language, religion, or social origin.

2. The foregoing provision does not authorize any suspension of the following articles: Article 3 (Right to Juridical Personality), Article 4 (Right to Life), Article 5 (Right to Humane Treatment), Article 6 (Freedom from Slavery), Article 9 (Freedom from Ex Post Facto Laws), Article 12 (Freedom of Conscience and Religion), Article 17 (Rights of the Family), Article 18 (Right to a Name), Article 19 (Rights of the Child), Article 20 (Right to Nationality), and Article 23 (Right to Participate in Government), or of the judicial guarantees essential for the protection of such rights.

3. Any State Party availing itself of the right of suspension shall immediately inform the other States Parties, through the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, of the provisions the application of which it has suspended, the reasons that gave rise to the suspension, and the date set for the termination of such suspension.

It can be seen therefore that these exceptional situations do not authorize deprivation of life, torture, retroactive application of the more severe penal law, the establishment of “crimes of opinion,” the disregard of the right of minors to special protection and treatment appropriate to their age, nor the adoption of measures that result in making it impossible to exercise for years such basic political rights as suffrage.

In addition, measures involving suspension of the guarantees of basic rights may in no case last longer than the actual, real, and provable situations that determine their adoption. Hence, for example, a “state of war” which is in fact nonexistent, or which in fact has ceased to exist, cannot be invoked to justify, under international law, the suspension of such guarantees.

In evaluating the general status of human rights in Chile during the period of the Commission's “on-the-sport” observations, as well as in the preparation of this report, the Commission has taken into account and applied the foregoing standards and criteria.

6. The Commission recognizes that it may involuntarily have committed some mistake. For many reasons, including pecuniary factors, observations of this type carried out must be concluded in a limited time, which does not permit verifying some aspects in the way the Commission would have desired. Moreover, as may occur in circumstances of political disturbance, much of the testimony that the Commission gathered is conceivably colored by passion, in one direction or the other. It is natural that, no matter how great the care taken in rationally evaluating the evidence, the Commission may have fallen into error. However, one can be absolutely certain that the Commission knows the risks that are inherent in its task, it applauds the procedural rules under which the Permanent Council must examine its reports, before submitting them to the General Assembly. In the Permanent Council, the countries concerned have the opportunity to make any observation they deem relevant, before the reports are given the publicity they receive when presented to the Assembly. This provides an opportunity to introduce any amendments that may be adequately justified.


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