SANTIAGO – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Friday signed into law a measure establishing criminal penalties for torture and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment.
The legislation provides for prison terms of up to 10 years for instigating, carrying out or abetting torture, and applies both to government employees and to private citizens acting under the color of authority.
Cruel or degrading treatment not rising to the level of torture will be punishable by five years behind bars.
The law covers psychological abuse and sexual violence, Bachelet said during a ceremony at La Moneda palace.
“To take into account the three dimensions of torture: physical, psychological and sexual violence, brings us into line with the most recent advances in the world in terms of preventing this scourge,” she said.
Impunity for torture of women produces a society that naturalizes violence against women, according to Bachelet, the daughter of an air force general who was tortured to death for his opposition to the 1973 coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power.
Michelle Bachelet and her mother were also detained and brutalized under the junta, along with more than 27,000 others.
In conjunction with the new law, the president said Friday that her administration is at work on a bill for a national mechanism to prevent torture.
Bachelet cited the case of Lorenza Cayuhan, an imprisoned Mapuche Indian activist who gave birth behind bars with her feet shackled and guards in the delivery room, even though the mother-to-be was fully anesthetized after doctors decided to perform a caesarian.
“This situation must be investigated in depth,” the president said, adding that she ordered officials to create new prison regulations to ensure that all inmates are treated with dignity.