IACHR and OHCHR Ask Chilean Legislators to Respect Human Rights Standards Concerning Security

June 3, 2024

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Washington, D.C./Santiago – Chilean legislators must respect international human rights standards concerning security, said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for South America. The IACHR and the OHCHR are concerned about moves in the Chilean Congress to pass bills that might reduce accountability and favor impunity for law enforcement officers.

On May 3, 2024, the lower house of the Chilean Congress passed a first reading of bill 15,805-07, concerning the use of force by officers of law enforcement agencies and the armed forces. The bill was then sent to the Senate for discussion.

The Commission emphasizes that it is an obligation of the states to ensure public safety, and it values the fact that the project incorporates the principles of legality, necessity, responsibility, rationality, and accountability. However, as part of the ongoing process, which is still open to further modifications, it is concerning that the principle of proportionality (according to which the level of force used must be strictly related to the seriousness of the threat or crime and the legitimate public order or law enforcement objective pursued) has been eliminated. Additionally, a provision (Article 15) has been included that establishes new presumptions to exempt law enforcement officers from criminal liability.

"The use of force by officers of the State must strictly reflect international human rights standards and ensure individual and institutional accountability, particularly for higher-ranking officers. Failing to comply with these principles enables the chronic recurrence of human rights violations and deprives victims and their families of their right to effective remedies when faced with rights violations committed by officers of the State," said IACHR Commissioner José Luis Caballero.

Inter-American Court jurisprudence has stressed that States' obligation to adapt domestic legislation (held in Article 2 of the American Convention on Human Rights, of which Chile is a signatory) involves the principles of legality, proportionality, necessity, accountability, and exceptionality, as well as criteria linked to the differentiated and gradual use of force.

"Failing to take into consideration the proportionality principle might entail a serious rollback of human rights in Chile," said Jan Jarab, head of the Regional Office of the OHCHR for South America. "The international evidence shows that reducing accountability is not an effective way to fight crime and terrible violence against officers of the security forces. True efforts to protect and strengthen police work must include more investment in police intelligence, improved incentives, and higher levels of training (for instance, concerning human rights), as well as better working conditions—including access to mental healthcare—for the relevant officers," Jarab stressed. *

In this context, although it is not currently part of the draft law on the use of force, Chilean legislators have also debated expanding the powers of military justice so it might handle cases linked to the activities of officers of the Carabineros (national police) and the armed forces to protect critical infrastructure during states of emergency, to protect border areas, and to preserve public order during elections and referendums.

The IACHR and the OHCHR stress that international standards clearly state that military justice may only handle offences committed by active military officers in the course of duty and that civilians may not, under any circumstances, be tried by military courts. The State must therefore take all measures necessary to ensure that ordinary justice remains the institution of competent jurisdiction to investigate (and, if required, to try and punish) all individuals who perpetrate human rights violations. The Inter-American Court has stressed the extreme care States must exercise when using the armed forces to control situations involving regular crime or disruptions of public order.

Through the joint mechanism to monitor compliance with the recommendations held in its report Situation of Human Rights in Chile (MESECH), the IACHR noted that the State took measures to assist victims of an excessive use of force in the context of the social protests of 2019 and that the State adopted a new National Public Security Plan with differentiated approaches based on gender and territory. The OHCHR also supports the action taken by Chile in terms of law enforcement based on the report drafted by its mission to the South American country in 2019. Both organizations called on the State of Chile to integrate a human rights approach into its law enforcement policies and to continue to reform the policies that are currently in force.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Based on the mandate granted to it by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 48/141, the OHCHR promotes and protects the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

*The OHCHR review on bill 15,805-07 is available in Spanish .

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