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Declarations & Statements


Amnesty International, Torture in the Eighties, Amnesty International Publications 1984



Torture of political detainees by members of the security forces has been reported regularly since the present military government under General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte seized power in 1973 and has continued during the period under review. Although most of the information available to Amnesty International refers to cases of a political nature, allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees accused of ordinary crimes have also been widespread.

No political party has been allowed to function legally since 11 September 1973 and those who were detained and tortured on account of their alleged political activities came from a broad spectrum of sectors and professions of Chilean society - teachers, students, peasants, doctors, lawyers, trade unionists, workers, and shanty-town dwellers.

Although torture and ill-treatment (especially of detainees suspected of ordinary crimes) was reportedly used by both Carabineros, uniformed police, and Investigaciones, plain-clothes police, in police stations, it was the Centrál Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) which was by far the most frequently cited as responsible for torturing people suspected of political activity. The CNI was created in 1977, taking over the personnel and functions of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA). People detained by, or handed over to, the CNI for interrogation were usually taken to secret [p.151] detention centres where they may be held in incommunicado detention for up to 20 days. It was during this period of incommunicado detention that torture was used, apparently to obtain information and self-incriminatory statements from political detainees, to intimidate them and, in some cases, to obtain their collaboration with the security forces.

According to Transitory Provision 24 of the 1981 constitution, the President may order the detention of political suspects for up to 20 days. Although the text of the law restricts the 20-day period to cases of people suspected of being involved in "terrorist activities with serious consequences", the executive and the courts have taken a very broad view of the scope of its application. In fact, most of those detained for up to 20 days have not been charged with any offence related to terrorism.

Amnesty International has gathered information on torture in Chile from a wide variety of sources: directly from victims, lawyers, victims' families, and human rights groups working in Chile.

The most common physical tortures described in testimonies available to Amnesty International (some collected by an Amnesty International mission to Chile in 1982) were: beating; administration of electric shocks and burns on the head and sensitive parts of the body; rape and other sexual abuse of women; non-therapeutic use of drugs; sleep deprivation; use of a form of torture known as el teléfono, the telephone, consisting of blows with the palms of the hands on both ears simultaneously; la parrilla, the metal grill, consisting of electric shocks on the most sensitive parts of the victim's body (usually the genitals, mouth, temples, toes, wrists) while he or she is tied to a metal bed frame; the pau de arara, parrot's perch, in which the victim is trussed into a crouching position, with the arms hugging the legs, a pole being then passed through the narrow gap between the bent knees and the elbows, the ends resting on two trestles or desks - with the victhn in a position in which the head hangs downwards, electric current is then administered to sensitive parts of the body, and water squirted under high pressure into the mouth and nose until the victim is on the verge of suffocation; the submarino or bañera, in which the victim's head is held under water almost to the point of suffocation.

The Chilean courts have not taken effective action to prevent detainees from being tortured: they have usually failed to respond to recursos de amparo, similar to petitions for habeas corpus, within the 48-hour period stipulated by law. When detainees have filed complaints before the courts, and military personnel were suspected of being involved, they were normally dealt with by military tribunals which have consistently failed to charge or convict [p.152] any member of the security forces for the torture or ill-treatment of detainees. This was true of the several hundreds of complaints filed with the courts since 1980.

Amnesty International has frequently issued appeals in cases since 1980 where the organization feared that detainees faced the possibility of torture after arrest. The organization has published numerous testimonies of torture victims and sent documentary evidence to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In 1983 Amnesty International published its report Chile: Evidence of Torture, describing the use of torture in that country as systematic and widespread. This report was based on the findings of an Amnesty International delegation which visited the country in 1982 and included two doctors who carried out in-depth medical examinations of 19 people, 18 of whom alleged they had been tortured. They found that the results of the medical examinations were consistent with the allegations of torture. Documentary evidence collected by Amnesty International included formal complaints by the victims submitted to the courts, medical certificates both from independent doctors and from the official Institute of Forensic Medicine in Santiago, and reports from autopsies of people who died allegedly as a result of injuries sustained during torture. One of the more disturbing findings in the report was that medically trained personnel - probably doctors - had taken part in the torture of detainees.

The report concluded that, based on its information, the organization regards it as beyond reasonable doubt that the use of torture has been a constant feature of the security forces' practice over the past nine years. The report recommended, among other measures that the Government of Chile institute promptly a public, open and independent inquiry into the allegations of torture filed before the courts - more than 200 were pending in the courts in mid-1982 - the results of which should be made public and redress and compensation secured for the victims. No response was received from the government.

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