Commissioners: Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, Margarette May Macaulay, Paulo Vannuchi

Petitioners: Civil Society Organizations from Chile, Representatives of Rapa Nui people

State: Chile

The Rapa Nui are an indigenous group inhabiting Easter Island in the southern Pacific Ocean near Polynesia that Chile annexed in 1888. The IACHR previously granted precautionary measures on February 7, 2011 for the Rapa Nui, which demanded that Chile cease the use of armed violence in its administration of the people. This hearing was convened following Rapa Nui’s request for renewal of these precautionary measures and to discuss the State’s violations of human rights.

The Petitioners included lawyers, advocates, and leaders of the Rapa Nui people who began the hearing by recounting the volatile history of the relationship between the Rapa Nui and Chile. Following a period of colonization and exploitation of the Rapa Nui, Chile negotiated with the Western landowners who claimed title to Easter Island and annexed the land. In 1888, a treaty was made between the Rape Nui and Chile where the Petitioners contend the human rights violations began. Following this treaty, Chile leased the land and confined the Rapa Nui people to one place on the island. According to Petitioners, this violated the agreement, which was to give the Rapa Nui control over their land. In the mid-1900s Easter Island came under control of the Chilean Navy who forced the Rapa Nui to work without payment, imprisoned those who committed minor offenses, and forced women who did not comply with sexual advances into leper colonies. In 1964 the Rapa Nui rebelled, which resulted in an agreement that granted them Chilean citizenship. Demonstrations continued through the subsequent decades as Chile failed to recognize the Rapa Nui sovereignty over the Easter Island land and continued to repress dissent.

The Petitioners want the precautionary measures to be renewed. In 2014, multiple individuals and groups representing the Rapa Nui sent a letter to the Chilean president asking for the return of their territory, but there has been no response. Matías Riroroko, the leader of the Rapa Nui, was present at the IACHR hearing and testified about his false imprisonment at the hands of the Chilean government. The Petitioners requested exclusive right to the territory, recognition as an autonomous state, and the implementation of plans and programs to protect the culture and identity of the Rapa Nui. They also extended an invitation for the commissioners to visit the island and observe the situation for themselves.

The Deputy Director for the Human Rights Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile responded for the State. The State acknowledged that the past relationship between Chile and the Rapa Nui has been complicated and marred by violence. However, they contend that there has been increased dialogue and improvement in the livelihood of the Rapa Nui over the past two decades. Major economic and social initiatives by Chile have led to population growth and the improvement of health, education, and tourism. Chile introduced other evidence of progress including its adopting the 1993 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They transferred the Rapa Nui Park to the total control of the Rapa Nui people, included them in the constitutional process, and adopted a special statute to govern Easter Island.

Following the statements of the Petitioners and State, Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi agreed that the precautionary measures should be protected. Commissioner Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli requested both the Petitioners and the State to briefly share their specific requests of the Commission.

The Petitioners affirmed their position that Chile has not met their obligations under the 1888 treaty and international law. They requested for Chile to return their territory as collective property to the Rapa Nui, to recognize the 1888 treaty, and to grant the Rapa Nui autonomy. Finally, they encouraged the Commissioners to visit the island. The State responded that the open dialogue is already occurring and that there are intentional initiatives towards progress and that they also welcome a visit.

The Rapa Nui people are not satisfied with the efforts made by the State and seek territorial sovereignty and autonomy. Chile argues that the dialogue between Chile and the Rapa Nui is evidence of progress and improvement. The Commissioners will continue to monitor the situation and consider taking a trip to Easter Island in person.

Author’s Legal Analysis

Prior to this hearing, the IACHR granted precautionary measures for the Rapa Nui as a result of the violent evictions they faced from private and public places by Chilean state actors. Precautionary measures are temporarily adopted in urgent and serious situations to prevent irreparable harm, and the Rapa Nui want these measures to be renewed by the Commission. Chile also voted to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1993. Although this declaration is not binding, it does establish universal standards to uphold the dignity and rights of the indigenous people.