Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over the State of Health of Mapuche Prisoners on Hunger Strike in Chile, Calls for Greater, More Timely Dialogue to Address Their Demands, and Condemns All Forms of Violence in Araucania

August 12, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the deteriorating health of Machi Celestino Córdova and called on the Chilean authorities and Mapuche hunger strikers to engage in deeper open, constructive dialogue around their demands concerning respect for the identity and culture of indigenous people who are deprived of their freedom and their conditions of detention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IACHR has also taken note of the recent acts of violence and attacks against the Mapuche people in Araucania.

The IACHR has learned that Machi Celestino Córdova, a Mapuche spiritual leader being held at Temuco penitentiary, allegedly began a hunger strike on May 4, 2020. A further 20 people, most of whom are members of the Mapuche Nation and who are also being deprived of their freedom at Temuco, Angol, and Lebu penitentiaries, have joined the strike and made different demands. According to the information available, Machi Celestino Córdova’s hunger strike concerns the inadequate healthcare measures in place in the context of COVID-19 and the other conditions that allegedly prevail within Chile’s prisons, in addition to the other long-standing structural demands of the Mapuche Nation. The health strike is pursuing two specific demands: a) for Machi Celestino Córdova and other Mapuche detainees to be able to serve their sentences within their communities; b) a permanent change in the precautionary measures for all Mapuche prisoners and those against whom charges have been brought.

In response, the IACHR expressed its serious concern over the life, health, and personal integrity of Machi Celestino Córdova and others who have continued on a liquids-only hunger strike until an effective dialogue has been established with the competent authorities on the issues they are protesting. After having been on strike more than 80 days, Machi Celestino Córdova’s health has seriously deteriorated and he has been transferred to the Nueva Imperial Hospital after losing more than 16.5 kg. According to the available information, Machi Celestino Córdova is currently suffering from various health problems, including the gradual deterioration of his organs and tissues, slowed movement, cervical and lumbar pain, dizziness, nausea, and possible kidney failure. This makes him particularly vulnerable to infection by the COVID-19 virus.

The IACHR also noted that Machi Celestino Córdova recently engaged in direct conversation with government authorities, during which initial commitments were made, according to public statements by his representatives. These agreements include refraining from imposing disciplinary or other sanctions on people who end their hunger strike and adopting measures to allow Mapuche prisoners to carry out cultural activities and access both their traditional and Western medicine. In response to these commitments, Machi Celestino Córdova has allegedly decided to postpone a full hunger strike although he will continue the liquids-only strike and his call for mobilization. According to the available information, the IACHR observed that there is a risk that he will go ahead with a full hunger strike if the agreements are not implemented, which would increase the risk of further damage to his health.

The IACHR noted the important role that machis (shamans) play in the physical, cultural, and spiritual well-being of their people and community. In the Mapuche worldview, machis are called upon to act as intermediaries between humans and the spiritual world, to lead ceremonies, and to practice traditional medicine. Given the severe crisis being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Machi Celestino Córdova’s community needs him to administer traditional health treatments and ceremonies at the rewe (altar), which are fundamental to maintaining collective well-being and harmony.

The IACHR recalls that indigenous people who are deprived of their freedom have specific needs in association with their ethnic origin, culture, traditions, religion, and language and require differentiated, culturally sensitive treatment. In view of the serious risks faced by people in situations of vulnerability and on the basis of Resolution 1/2020 on Pandemics and Human Rights in the Americas, the IACHR noted that states must evaluate requests for special treatment and alternatives to prison sentences. The IACHR also recommended that states step up measures to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples during the COVID-19 pandemic and that consideration be given to these groups’ rights to receive culturally appropriate health care, preventive care and traditional medicines and healing practices.

Furthermore, the IACHR noted that this situation is unfolding against the broader historical backdrop of conflicts faced by the Mapuche Nation in Chilean Araucania as a consequence of the structural discrimination to which this indigenous people has historically been exposed and in response to their demands for recognition of their ancestral territorial rights and respect for their autonomy and self-determination.

On this point, the IACHR has taken note of the publicly available information on acts of violence, discriminatory speech, and attacks on Mapuche spiritual symbols that have been reported in Araucania since August 2, 2020. According to the information received by the IACHR, the victims of these incidents were Mapuche people who were demonstrating in solidarity with the Mapuche prisoners’ strike.
There have also been reports of clashes between law enforcement officers and Mapuche community members including fire-starting, the occupation of public spaces, and evictions. The IACHR reminded the state of its obligations to provide protection against discrimination on ethnic or racial grounds and urged the state to investigate and punish such acts, combat hate speech against the demands of the Mapuche Nation, and prevent the excessive use of force and racial profiling. The IACHR condemns all forms of violence. However, it wishes to clarify that the fact that some people have engaged in isolated acts of violence does not make all forms of protest in the course of exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association a threat to public order.

The IACHR underlined the importance of creating, maintaining, and/or strengthening specific permanent channels of dialogue with the Mapuche Nation and other indigenous peoples, taking the recommendations of the Historical Truth and New Deal with Indigenous Peoples Commission into account. It also urged states to guarantee the health, integrity, and other human rights of indigenous peoples who are being deprived of their freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic, including compliance with Resolution 3925 of the Chilean gendarmerie. This should be implemented from an intercultural perspective and with respect for traditional cultural practices and medicines.

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. 197/20