Commissioners: Rosa Maria Ortiz, James L. Cavallaro, and Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.
“Children first,” said Rosa Maria Ortiz, Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, as she addressed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on October 22, 2015. Before her, the Petitioners alleged that institutional violence, police abuse, and government impunity against Mapuche indigenous children in southern Chile continues to escalate.
While the Mapuche people are the largest ethnic group in Chile (approximately 10% of the population), Petitioners maintained they remain the most vulnerable. During the Pinochet era, the government introduced laws that declared that there were “no indigenous people in Chile, only Chileans.” Since that time, Petitioners asserted, they have struggled to hold on to their land, culture, and language in the face of police intimidation and government inaction. The violence against their communities is particularly damaging to the children involved.
Nevertheless, Petitioners clarified that the ongoing violence is not due to a lack of mechanisms to address impunity, but instead, the absence of actual implementations of these policies, individual accountability, and investigations on behalf of the Chilean government. For example, Petitioners cited to numerous protections for child victims of police violence that have been taken on by the state’s Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. However, despite rulings from both courts, the Petitioners maintained, violence continues to occur.
One story the Petitioners shared involved a police raid in the communities of Trapilwe lof Mawidache in April 2013, where more than 10 children between the ages of 3 and 15 years were violently injured. Another story involved attacks on the School of Temucuicui, resulting in 42 children affected by the “unjustified and arbitrary” release of tear gas. These types of incidents, Petitioners asserted, seriously affect the life, integrity, and development of children and young Mapuche. Petitioners concluded with a plea to the IACHR to monitor the situation and to the Chilean state to take a registry of the number of children affected by the violence and to hold those responsible accountable.
While the State of Chile’s response did not condone any acts of violence against Mapuche children, they asserted that the Petitioners’ claims were too broad and did not rely on enough specifics for the government to effectively address their concerns. The State maintained that any acts of violence should be based on proportionality and reasonability, and that the legal system has specific tools that make it possible for any person that feels their rights have been limited to bring action to the courts. The State reiterated the mechanisms in place to prevent children from being exposed to violence, such as police programs on human rights, with a special commitment to indigenous populations; judicial trainings on awareness of the fundamental rights of children; and current legislation to ensure children’s access to human rights. The State also spoke of their formation of CONADI (Corporación Nacional de Desarollo Indígena), which is tasked to protect cultural development of indigenous people and to conserve Mapuche land. Finally, the State asserted that changes in anti-terrorist and security laws now apply protections for children.
Commissioners contended there was no doubt that Chile had made human rights advances generally, but said that when it comes to indigenous people there continues to be a problem, and when children are the subject of concern that is particularly disturbing. Commissioner Rose-Marie Antonie agreed that prosecution of those responsible needs to take place, as well as government investigations into these matters. “Violence is a tool of intimidation,” Commissioner Antonie asserted, and while she questioned the exact statistics of casualties to the violence, she maintained, “it is clear the violence is worsening.” Commissioner Rosa Maria Ortiz stated that while Chile’s current measures have come a long way, vulnerability of indigenous children has not changed. The Commissioners concluded with a call for the State to assemble a concrete investigatory team to look into the continuing abuse of indigenous children.
The hearing concluded with a general consensus as to the urgency of the ongoing violence against Mapuche children, and the collective hope to move forward in finding solutions to address it.
Author’s Legal Analysis
While Chile has made significant strides towards addressing the human rights of children, including being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, they also need to remain committed to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, particularly in the presence of already vulnerable Mapuche children. The Chilean authorities should carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the alleged unlawful use of force by police against members of the Mapuche indigenous community and their children.
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