Press Release

IACHR Concerned About Chilean Bill to Authorize House Arrest for Some Individuals Convicted of Serious Human Rights Violations Committed During the Dictatorship

April 22, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about a bill that might lead to certain individuals who have been convicted of crimes including serious human rights violations during Chile’s civic-military dictatorship being granted house arrest. The IACHR reminds the State of Chile that granting such measures might entail a failure to comply with the country’s international obligation to punish people responsible for such serious crimes and also give an impression of impunity. The IACHR welcomes the enactment of the General Sentence Commutation Act, aimed at reducing overcrowding in the country’s prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 8, according to publicly available reports, the Senate relaunched work on a bill to regulate the substitution of incarceration sentences for humanitarian reasons that is known as the “humanitarian pardon bill.” This initiative would make it possible to replace an incarceration sentence for crimes of any sort with full house arrest for individuals “aged 75 or above who have served at least half their sentences (with the exception of those who have been sentenced to life in prison or qualified life in prison, who will respectively need to have been effectively incarcerated for 20 or 40 years).” Individuals who are terminally ill or who have serious, irreversible physical impairments that make them gravely dependent would also be able to benefit from this initiative. According to these reports, during a session held on April 13, the Senate’s Human Rights, Nationality, and Citizenship Committee rejected the option of drafting a law on this matter and sent the bill on to the Committee on the Constitution, Legislation, Justice, and Regulations for assessment.

The IACHR has repeatedly stressed the State’s obligation to prevent, investigate, and punish all violations of rights held in the Convention and to ensure, if possible, the restoration of rights that have been violated, as well as reparation of any damage caused by human rights violations. In particular, in cases involving Almonacid Arellano and Others and García Lucero and Others, the IACHR has stressed that, concerning serious human rights violations, the State must refrain from resorting to amnesties, pardons, statutes of limitations, and limitations of liability, and to measures aimed at preventing criminal prosecution or ending the effects of a conviction. States must ensure effective enforcement of any punishment issued by domestic courts—sentences need to really prevent impunity, as a mechanism to prevent such serious crimes from happening again.

Concerning improved prison terms and alternatives to incarceration for individuals convicted of serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Chile, the IACHR has said in the past that they require stricter analysis and requirements based on the legal asset involved, the seriousness of the crime, and States’ obligation to investigate, prosecute, and, if necessary, punish individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.

In its recent Resolution 1/2020, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, the IACHR asked States to ensure that, in cases involving individuals convicted of serious human rights violations, any assessments to grant improved prison terms and alternatives to incarceration are subjected to stricter analysis and requirements and consider the proportionality principle and the inter-American standards applicable to the legal asset in question, the seriousness of the crime, and States’ obligation to punish the individuals responsible for those human rights violations.

The Commission saluted progress made in Chile to ensure justice for serious rights violations committed in the country’s recent past and highlighted sentence enforcement as an important aspect of the country’s international obligation to punish perpetrators. The IACHR calls on the State of Chile to consider the seriousness of these crimes as it evaluates granting improved prison terms to individuals convicted of such crimes.

The IACHR further notes that the General Sentence Commutation Act was enacted on April 16. It will seek to replace deprivation of liberty with house arrest, for some individuals, with the aim of reducing overcrowding in the country’s prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IACHR notes that this act excludes individuals convicted of extremely serious crimes, including crimes against humanity. The Commission welcomes this move, which is in line with the recommendations made by the IACHR in Resolution 1/2020, Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas.

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. 087/20