• Press Release

Chile: Two-tier justice system allows police to get away with human rights violations

April 1, 2016

Chile’s outrageous two-tier justice system is allowing police officers to beat, ill-treat and in some cases even kill peaceful demonstrators and other individuals and only face a miniscule sanction at best, said Amnesty International in a new report today.

I didn’t know there were two kinds of justice: Military jurisdiction and police brutality in Chilereveals that Chile’s military courts, which deal with cases of human rights violations committed by members of the security forces, regularly fail to adequately investigate and prosecute officers that are suspected of having committed a crime. Trials in these courts usually lack the most basic levels of independence and impartiality.

“Chile’s military courts should not be allowed to investigate, prosecute and punish members of its own ranks – that is simply a no-brainer. It is akin to courts allowing criminals to be judged by their own families,” said Ana Piquer, Director at Amnesty International Chile.

“This utterly absurd system has prevented many Chileans from accessing justice for far too long. It is time for the government and Congress to give this issue the importance it deserves, and send the message that they are on the right side of the law by stopping military courts from dealing with cases of human rights violations.”

Protests across Chile have intensified in recent years and so has the level of police violence against demonstrators. Amnesty International has recorded cases in which police officers beat or indiscriminately used tear gas and water cannons against protesters. Several people, including peaceful protesters and bystanders, have been injured, while some have been killed in the context of peaceful protests.

Brutal statistics

Military tribunals have rarely convicted security officers suspected of committing human rights violations. In the rare occasions when an investigation is actually opened, the process is handled behind closed doors, sentences are notoriously light and officers are seldom sent to prison.

According to official statistics analyzed by Amnesty International, in one of the six military courts in the country (the Santiago Second Military Court), only 0.3%of the reported cases of abusesagainst demonstrators in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2014 were subject to criminal proceedings (14 out of 4,551).

Getting off lightly

Manuel Gutiérrez, 16, died of a gunshot wound to his chest in August 2011 in Santiago de Chile. He was on his way home watching a protest when clashes between demonstrators andthe police taking place that night turned violent. The authorities immediately denied that a policeofficer was responsible for the shooting that killed Manuel and claimed instead that Manuel was gotcaught up in a fight between rival local youth gangs.

After Manuel was taken to hospital, a member of the police was arrested. Five days after the young man died from his injury, the prosecutor dealing with the case sent the file to the military courts, arguing she did not have the remit to pursue it. In May 2014, the military tribunal found the officer guilty of firing the gun that killed Manuel and hurt another young man. The tribunal initially sentenced the officer to three years and 61 days in prison, but later allowed him to serve the sentence under house arrest. After a further appeal, his sentence was reduced, to 461 days without having set foot in prison.

In a separate case, photojournalist Víctor Salas nearly lost the sight in his right eye after he was beaten by a police officer while covering a demonstration in the city of Valparaíso in May 2008.

Nearly four years later, in January 2012, a military tribunal sentenced the officer to 541 days in prison on charges of “unnecessary violence that caused grave injuries” (violencias innecesarias causando lesiones graves). A year later, an appeal military court reduced the sentence to 300 days in prison because the officer did not have any previous criminal record. He was later reinstated in his position. Since then, Víctor Salas has been fighting for compensation for his loss of income as a result of his injuries.

“Relying on military courts that seem only to pay lip service to justice means Chile’s security forces are getting away with serious crimes. This utter lack of justice, coupled with the growing number of cases of police abuses against peaceful demonstrators, is a recipe for disaster,” said AnaPiquer, Director at Amnesty International Chile.

“Police officers seem to be fully aware that beating and shooting civilians will have few or no consequences.”

Congress is yet to debate a draft law that would give civilian courts jurisdiction over cases of human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces and the police.