Press Release

IACHR Epresses Concern over the Granting of Conditional Release to those Convicted of Serious Human Rights Violations in Chile

August 17, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern about the decision of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Chile to grant conditional release to those convicted of serious human rights violations who were serving prison sentences for their responsibility for crimes against humanity during the Chilean dictatorship, despite the negative rulings of the Commission on Parole. The IACHR recalls that in relation to sentences imposed for serious human rights violations, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has referred to the State's duty to refrain from resorting to figures who seek to suppress the effects of the sentence.

According to information received by the Commission, on 30 and 31 July 2018, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Chile granted conditional release to former agents of the civic-military dictatorship convicted for their involvement in crimes against humanity. In five of the cases, in making this decision, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the Santiago Court of Appeals that had upheld the decisions issued by the Parole Commission in April of this year. These resolutions, based on psychological reports made by the Gendarmerie, warn that the convicted persons have insufficient or no awareness of the crime and the damage caused as a result of it, or validate or justify their criminal behavior, among other aspects.

The IACHR notes that in the reasoning behind the decision, it points out that the conventions signed by the Chilean State in the area of human rights do not prevent the recognition of the convicted persons' right to return to society through mechanisms such as conditional release, and maintains that in the Barrios Altos case, the Inter-American Court only questioned the "undue" granting of benefits in the execution of the sentence. The Criminal Chamber argues that this situation would not arise in the cases in question since the legal and regulatory requirements for access to parole would be met.

In this regard, the IACHR considers that, although even in cases of serious human rights violations, international law admits that certain circumstances may lead to a reduction in the sentence, such as effective collaboration with the justice system through information that allows the crime to be solved, in accordance with the standards of the Inter-American Human Rights System, such circumstances require a more demanding analysis and requirements in terms of the legally protected rights affected, the gravity of the facts, and the obligation of States to investigate, judge and punish those responsible for crimes against humanity. Consequently, the international obligation to punish those responsible for serious human rights violations cannot be unduly affected or become illusory during the execution of the sentence that imposed the sanction, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.

Likewise, the Inter-American Court has recently pointed out that when contemplating a measure that affects the execution of the sentence for crimes of serious human rights violations, it is necessary to consider the impact on the rights of victims and their families, taking into consideration international law standards such as: that a substantial part of the custodial sentence has been served and the civil reparation imposed in the sentence has been paid; the convicted person's conduct with regard to the establishment of the truth; recognition of the seriousness of the crimes committed and their rehabilitation; and the effects that their early release would have on the social level and on the victims and their families.

Finally, the Inter-American Human Rights System has warned that the application of measures that reduce the meaning or effectiveness of the penalties imposed for such crimes may lead to impunity for conduct that States are obliged to prevent, eradicate and punish. For serious human rights violations, States must therefore ensure effective enforcement of the sanctions adopted by the domestic courts, considering that the imposition of sentences must truly contribute to the prevention of impunity as a mechanism to prevent the recurrence of crimes. The Commission also notes that enforcement of the judgement is an integral part of the right of access to justice for victims of serious human rights violations and their families.

The Commission reiterates that crimes against humanity have a number of characteristics that distinguish them from other crimes in terms of the aims and objectives they pursue, including the concept of humanity as a victim and its role as a guarantee of non-repetition of attacks on democracy and unforgettable atrocities. "The Chilean State has an international obligation not to leave these types of crimes unpunished and to ensure the proportionality of the penalty, refraining from applying the benefits typical of less serious crimes that could undermine the effects of sentences for crimes against humanity," said Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas, Rapporteur for Chile.

For her part, the President of the IACHR, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, stated: "The application of benefits must take into account the need to apply more stringent requirements in cases of serious human rights violations. Otherwise, it would render ineffective the sanction imposed, in contravention of international standards for the protection of human rights with regard to serious human rights violations.”

The IACHR welcomes the fact that Chile, where historically the voice of victims has been heard in defending the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations committed during the civil-military dictatorship, has in many cases become an emblematic regional and international example in favor of justice for serious human rights violations. The IACHR also salutes civil society organizations and human rights defenders for their important work in demanding the right to truth, justice and full reparation for these crimes, within the framework of the rule of law and a democratic society. The IACHR trusts that the Supreme Court of Chile will carry out the conventionality control (the application of relevant international standards) that it is called upon to do, observing international and Inter-American standards that apply to serious human rights violations, and that it will preserve its important legacy of adequate responses against impunity for crimes of the authoritarian past.

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.

No. 185/18