22 August 2012 While progress has been made investigating and prosecuting enforced disappearances in Chile, challenges remain to ensure perpetrators serve their sentences, a group of United Nations independent experts said today.
“Very few of the convicted perpetrators are effectively serving a sentence, due to the low penalties imposed or other benefits granted,” said the experts of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances at the end of their mission in the South American country, adding that “the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance requires that acts of enforced disappearances are sanctioned in accordance with the gravity of the crime.”
The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992. Among its articles, it states that “any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity,” and it condemns such actions “as a grave and flagrant violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It seeks to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned to ensure cases are investigated.
In a news release, the group of experts praised the progress made by the Chilean authorities since the country began its democratic transition in 1990, ending the dictatorship that had followed a military coup in 1973.
“The investigations and convictions for enforced disappearances are important achievements of the Chilean State and society in the fight against impunity for grave human rights violations,” the Working Group said. ““However, important challenges remain.”
The experts stressed the importance of measures to provide reparations and seek justice as a response to the human rights violation committed during the dictatorship, and called on the Government to strengthen its responsibility and leadership role to ensure that these initiatives, which today are mainly run by relatives of victims, become part of a comprehensive and permanent State policy.
“Other important challenges that Chile needs to overcome are the slowness of judicial proceedings, the application of military justice to current cases of human rights violations, the absence of an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance and the lack of a national plan to search for disappeared persons,” the experts noted.
During its mission, the Working Group visited Santiago, the capital, as well as the cities of Valparaíso and Paine.
The Working Group is scheduled to present a report to the Human Rights Council in March next year based on the information they gathered during and prior to their mission.
The body’s five members are Olivier de Frouville from France, who is also the Chair-Rapporteur, Ariel Dulitzky from Argentina, Jasminka Dzumhur from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Osman El-Hajjé from Lebanon, and Jeremy Sarkin from South Africa.
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