Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-CHILE: Reparations, but not Justice, for Torture Victims

Gustavo González

SANTIAGO, Nov 29 2004 (IPS) - Chilean President Ricardo Lagos’ decision to release the report on torture committed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and to compensate the victims has been applauded by politicians and activists, although many continue to demand that the torturers be brought to justice.

At the same time, some members of the governing centre-left coalition have continued to insist that civilians who collaborated with the de facto regime should publicly apologise to their fellow Chileans, and assume their share of the responsibility.

In a 15-minute speech broadcast on national television and radio Sunday, Lagos, a moderate socialist, announced that the report from the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture would be released to the public, after being kept secret since Nov. 10, when it was presented to him.

The report was published Monday on the Commission’s website, and fragments were printed by the country’s major newspapers.

“I have deeply felt the magnitude of the suffering, the senselessness of the extreme cruelty, the immensity of the pain,” said Lagos, referring to the report, which compiled the testimony of tens of thousands of torture victims.

The Chilean leader also stressed that torture was a state policy under the regime led by Gen. Pinochet from Sept. 11, 1973 until Mar. 11, 1990.

The Commission headed by Bishop Sergio Valech spent a year gathering testimony, in Chile and abroad, from 35,865 people who said they were tortured while held as political prisoners by the de facto regime.

Of that total, the Commission accepted the testimony of some 28,000 victims, who will receive monthly reparations payments equivalent to around 180 dollars for the rest of their lives, according to a proposal that Lagos will submit to parliament, which will also recommend indemnification measures in areas like health benefits, housing and education for victims and their relatives.

The remaining 7,000 people, whose testimony was not considered sufficiently reliable, can appeal and apply for reparations, Justice Minister Luis Bates said Monday.

He also underlined that “no sum can truly compensate the victims” of torture.

The fifth chapter of the report is the most hard-hitting, as it contains personal accounts describing the torture methods to which 94 percent of the Chileans arrested for political reasons under the Pinochet regime were subjected.

The 3,400 women who presented their testimony to the Commission said they had been the victims of sexual violence. Several of them became pregnant as a result, and the report documents six cases of children born as a result of rape.

In addition, 88 children under the age of 12 were held as political prisoners and tortured, says the report.

According to the Commission, 70 percent of the victims are now 55 or older, and seven percent of those who gave their testimony died in the past year.

The identities of those who spoke to the Commission will only be made available five years from now, due to the psychological trauma of their experiences, and because many people kept silent for more than 30 years out of fear, Lagos said in his speech.

In accordance with the agreement that gave rise to the creation of the Commission, the report does not contain the names of the torturers, even in the cases in which they were identified by the victims.

“What is lacking here is bringing the torturers to justice,” complained the secretary-general of Chile’s Communist Party, Guillermo Teillier.

Sources with the Group of Families of the Detained-Disappeared (AFDD) who spoke to IPS said the group would press for mechanisms to bring the torturers to court.

On Monday, the president of Lagos’ Socialist Party, Gonzalo Martner, urged the members of the right-wing opposition alliance, and in particular those who served as government officials under the Pinochet regime, to apologise to the public for their responsibility in the human rights violations.

Senator Sergio Fernández, a member of the rightist Independent Democratic Union (UDI), and a former interior minister under Pinochet, drew reactions of indignation and incredulity when he claimed in an interview over the weekend that he had known nothing about Villa Grimaldi, one of the most notorious of the 1,200 clandestine detention and torture centres that operated in Chile.

During the military regime, it was said that “the only good leftist is a dead leftist,” recalled Martner. “Profound hatefulness was sown, from the right in particular, through their media outlets.”

Martner also called on the rest of the branches of the armed forces to follow the lead of army chief Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre, who in early November acknowledged the army’s institutional responsibility for the dictatorship’s human rights abuses.

Senator Jorge Pizarro, of the co-governing Christian Democracy Party, said that “once and for all, the right will have to recognise their share of the responsibility,” particularly “those civilians who took part in the regime and knew exactly what was going on.”

The report by what has become known as the Valech Commission criticised the performance of the judiciary during the dictatorship, because the courts systematically denied habeas corpus requests and other legal petitions on behalf of detainees who later disappeared or were tortured.

The Supreme Court ignored infringements and abuses committed by the military courts, says the report.

The acting president of the Supreme Court, Justice Hernán Alvarez, declined to comment Monday on the report and on Lagos’ speech, merely stating that “The judiciary is waiting to receive the report to study it in detail.”

Bishop Alejandro Goic, who was elected president of Chile’s bishops’ conference last week, said the report “must serve as a strong lesson so that never again will anyone’s sacred human dignity be violated in this country.”

Goic said he was moved and appalled by the testimony, and added that no one should seek to reap political dividends out of the situation.

He observed that during the dictatorship, several bishops issued a decree that excommunicated torturers who professed the Catholic faith.

Because of that decision, “we were greatly vilified. But in retrospect, I thank God that above and beyond our fragility, we did what we had to do: defend sacred human dignity,” said Goic.

Iván Moreira, a UDI lawmaker who is close to the elderly Pinochet, told the press Monday that he was convinced that the then dictator was unaware that political prisoners were being tortured.

According to the report released by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1991, 3,190 Chileans were killed by the security forces during the dictatorship, including 1,198 who were the victims of forced disappearance.

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