Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mapuche Conflict - Chile Government Flip Flops as Human Rights Abuses Continue

Despite the government’s professed openness to resolving the Mapuche conflict, human rights abuses against indigenous people continue in Chile.

Last week JosÈ Aylwin, co-director of the Observatory for Indigenous Rights (ODPI) and son of former president Patricio Aylwin, submitted a scathing letter to Interior Minister PÈrez Yoma detailing serious human rights abuses committed by the Carabineros police force against nine Mapuche detainees in the Region IX city of Ercilla. Aylwin’s letter, based on testimonies from the nine detainees, recounts in detail the police tactics he says “can be qualified as torture.”

The nine men were arrested early this month during a two-day public festival celebrating the anniversary of the city of Ercilla. Carabineros apprehended the men individually, claiming they were causing a disturbance. Aylwin cites witnesses who attest that the festival was a peaceful gathering with no motive of political or social agitation. The nine men maintain they were attending the festival for celebratory purposes only. They are now being held at the Collipulli commissioner’s office under charges of public disorder and attacking police officers.

Aylwin claims the arrests were “arbitrary detentions” and that Carabineros acted “without these men having done anything to warrant apprehension.” The police did not ask for identification when arresting the men nor did they offer reasons for the apprehension.

Even more disturbing, however, is the physical abuse endured by the Ercilla detainees. Four of the men, upon being taken to the commissioner’s office, were tied to posts and left there more than 13 hours in police custody while being interrogated and beaten by Carabineros. The report goes on to describe one detainee who had to get stitches on his head after a police officer beat him with the butt end of a gun.

In the letter, Aylwin asks PÈrez Yoma to investigate the Carabineros’ treatment of these and other Mapuche prisoners. He also sent a copy to Rodolfo Stavenhagen, special relater to the United Nations for human rights and indigenous liberties. Stavenhagen has been outspoken against the Chilean government’s indigenous rights policies.

In the meantime, Carabineros have upped police presence in this northern district of Region IX. Residents of Temucuicui, a Mapuche town located 12 kilometers from Ercilla, released a public declaration Tuesday describing a massive influx of special police forces in their small community of 120 families.
Temucuicui has been a focal point for conflict between Mapuche and the police forces that regularly patrol the area. Tuesday’s declaration denounces the unnecessary militarization of this small settlement, including the presence of helicopters, tanks, air planes, and an increased force of police officers decked in riot gear.

As human rights abuses continue in Ercilla, the Chilean government is still vacillating on the issue of how to resolve indigenous conflict. Government spokesperson Francisco Vidal said this week that Chile is open to visits from foreign observers to intervene in the Mapuche conflict. His comment puts an end to the government’s ongoing debate on the matter.

Here is the full article.