SANTIAGO – Human Rights Watch warned that Chile’s national police have committed serious human rights violations, including excessive use of force against demonstrators and serious abuse in detention, to contain the social uprising that has gripped the Latin American country.
HRW said it had met with President Sebastian Piñera on Tuesday to call for urgent reforms to Chile’s national police in the wake of weeks of unrest which started on 18 October.
According to the New York-based organization, 442 criminal complaints have been lodged with the National Human Rights Institute.
The crimes reported included rape, torture, killings, cruel treatment and attempted killings on behalf of the country’s security forces.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of HRW, said: “Issues such as the indiscriminate and improper use of riot guns and shotguns, abuse of detainees in custody, and poor internal accountability systems gave rise to serious violations of the rights of many Chileans.
“This is precisely why police reforms are urgently needed.”
HRW interviewed more than 70 people over a two-week investigation in Santiago and Valparaiso (center).
The agency says it has collected compelling evidence that the police used excessive force in response to protests, wounding thousands of people, regardless of whether they had participated in violent acts or not.
HRW reported some victims were injured by teargas fired from riot guns and pellets fired from shotguns.
Others reported having suffered police abuse in the streets or at police stations.
The abuses and serious injuries suffered by hundreds of protesters occurred largely due to structural failures of oversight and accountability that predate the current wave of demonstrations, HRW said.
The government has said that since the outbreak of the protests the Attorney General’s Office is investigating 26 deaths.
One protester was allegedly brutally beaten to death on the streets by police.
Three others were allegedly shot dead by military forces when a state of emergency was declared which saw the army rule over much of the country for nine days.
Another person was allegedly run over by a vehicle belonging to the navy, the Attorney General’s Office added.
One protester with a heart condition died because he did not receive adequate emergency care because police officers were attacking the medical staff who were treating him, the report continued.
Another investigation into the death of two men in police custody, currently treated as suicide, was being assessed by the Attorney General’s Office.
The HRW report added that although most protesters demonstrated peacefully some groups committed serious acts of violence, such as attacks on police and police stations hurling stones and Molotov cocktails, looting and burning of public and private property.
More than 1,896 police officers have been injured and about 127 of these were seriously wounded.