SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean police and soldiers backed by their commanders have carried out “generalized” attacks on people protesting over inequality with the intention of “punishing and harming” them, Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday.
Erika Guevara Rosas, the rights group’s Americas Director, told Reuters that its investigative team, sent to the country to weigh allegations of excessive force and rights violations by security forces, had found evidence of abuses not normally seen outside troubled Latin American nations like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras.
She said they had been “shocked” to find evidence of excessive force used in Chile, widely seen as one of the region’s most democratic and stable nations.
Amnesty said it had confirmed five deaths at the hands of security forces, as well as credible evidence of protesters being shot at with live ammunition, sexually abused, tortured, beaten, and run over. There was a repeated pattern of abuse that suggested intention, it said.
Rosas said police and army personnel had broken international law in the use of live ammunition in crowd control and its own protocols in the liberal use of rubber bullets and tear gas.
A spokesman for the Chilean police said all allegations that had been formally reported would be investigated.
The army said it had not seen the Amnesty report but that it had an “iron-clad commitment” to observing human rights, and would “actively collaborate” in the investigation into the four deaths attributed to its troops. It added that when deployed for the nine-day state of emergency, it issued “special instructions” to its forces to ensure there was no excessive use of force or weaponry.
Rosas said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was responsible for failing to acknowledge the abuses or condemning them swiftly. She said his claim last month that “we are at war” fed “the violent repression we have seen on the streets.”
“There was an intention to punish people and this came not just from the police and military on the streets but also those under whose command they were,” she said.
“If this was punishment of the people who were protesting against government policies, then the highest levels of government, including Pinera, have a responsibility for the human rights violations.”
Pinera told reporters in a briefing at La Moneda that his government had written the rules governing use of force in Chile - and updated them in March.
“If the protocols were not complied with - and I believe that it is possible that in some cases they were not - that will be investigated by prosecutors and will be punished by the courts of justice. That’s how a democracy works, that’s how a rule of law works,” he said.
On Sunday, the president acknowledged there had been “some” excessive use of force, abuse and crime and vowed “no impunity” for police and soldiers found responsible.
Chile has seen a month of both peaceful protests and violent riots that started over anger at a hike in public transport fares and broadened to include grievances over low pensions and salaries, the high cost of living, and security force abuses.
The unrest has left at least 23 dead, 7,000 detained, over 2,000 demonstrators hospitalized and more than 1,700 police officers injured, according to authorities and rights groups. More than 200 people have been hit in the eyes with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, doctors have said.
Prosecutors are examining more than 2,000 allegations of abuses by security forces, the head of the public prosecutor’s rights division told Reuters last week.