Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Chile with non-governmental organizations

13 August 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an interactive dialogue with non-governmental organizations from Chile. The report of Chile will be reviewed by the Committee during its current session.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Chile raised a number of issues concerning the situation of minority groups, especially the Mapuche people, who were victims of systematic discrimination. Speakers highlighted the difficulties facing the Mapuche with regard to establishing and running local radio stations broadcasting in their own language, and drew attention to their limited access to higher education and the obstacles impeding their participation in public life. Serious concerns were also expressed about the methods used by the State to suppress Mapuche protests, such as invoking an anti-terrorist law and using excessive force against members of the indigenous community.

Régis de Gouttes, the Committee’s Rapporteur for Chile, asked whether non-governmental organizations had been involved in the preparation of the country report and about the level of cooperation between civil society and the newly established National Institution for Human Rights. He asked for detailed information on other minority groups, such as persons of African and Roma descent.

Representatives from the following non-governmental organizations spoke during the meeting: Red de Pueblos Originarios en Chile por los derechos de la Madre Tierra, la Biodiversidad y el Conocimiento Tradicional, International Human Rights Network, Geneva, Asociacion Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (AMARC & AIFEX), and Citizens Observatory and Human Cooperation.

The next meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today, when the Committee will begin consideration of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Chile (CERD/C/CHL/19-21).

Statements on Chile

JUAN CORREA CALFIN, Red de Pueblos Originarios en Chile por los derechos de la Madre Tierra, la Biodiversidad y el Conocimiento Tradicional, said that the Mapuche community in Chile suffered systematic discrimination and violation of its fundamental rights, despite Chile having signed a number of international instruments against discrimination. Chilean institutions had systematically failed to implement the social, political and other rights of indigenous peoples, and continued to protect the interests of specific economic groups, which led to greater inequality in the country. Several members of the Mapuche community had been killed because of their ethnic origin. The Committee should look closely at all forms of discrimination suffered by the Mapuche community and take action to ensure that everyone in Chile had the chance to live in peaceful co-existence, for the sake of current and future generations.

RAMON MUNOZ, International Human Rights Network, Geneva, stressed the symbolic value of having representatives of Chilean indigenous communities address the Committee. Chile should do more to help all its people engage with the international human rights system. Concerning Chilean radio, there was no policy in place to protect Mapuche radio stations, which had a crucial role to play in preserving the Mapuche language. Moreover, there was no policy in place to facilitate access to the internet in any of the Mapuche areas, as a result of which the Mapuche community remained isolated in the absence of other traditional media. Chile was not a good example of a country with democratic media, with most of its media still in the hands of the few. That had a negative impact on the development of indigenous communities in terms of their access to public life. It was essential, therefore, to take steps in order to democratize the media in the country and provide media access to all indigenous communities.

MIREYA MANQUEPILLAN, Asociacion Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (AMARC & AIFEX), said that the media broadcasting in the Mapuche region did not represent the Mapuche community, and attempts to operate a Mapuche radio station had failed. Local radio stations were harassing those trying to run a Mapuche radio station, telling them that such a station had no right to exist. Being refused a license to broadcast, the persons running the Mapuche radio station were prosecuted on the basis of a new law which criminalized broadcasting without an appropriate license. The Mapuche radio station should go back on air immediately without the threat of having its staff prosecuted. Appropriate training and the allocation of resources were needed for the Mapuche to be able to use their own language on the radio. This was only one of many examples of the difficulties facing the Mapuche community when it came to exercising their right to freedom of expression. Concerning indigenous women in particular, there was no policy in place to promote access to the media or to strengthen their participation in public life.

SAFOURATA SIDIBE, International Network of Human Rights, Geneva, said that Chile had been seen as working to ensure education for all, to protect and develop culture, and to promote economic development. Radio stations were crucial in order to improve the situation in all of the above areas, and radio networks could expand the participation of citizens in public affairs and promote dialogue. The radio should be a means of communication accessible to all, including indigenous peoples, and it was especially important for persons living in rural areas. Ms. Sidibé said that there was discrimination in Chile vis-à-vis community radio stations, which did not enjoy the same status as nationwide radio stations. This was highly problematic, because the radio was an important means for the promotion of language and culture, so a bilingual approach to radio communications should become a priority for the Government. In addition, Mapuche communities did not have the right to include advertising in their radio programmes, which meant that there was a major lack of resources and, as a result, they had to rely heavily on voluntary work.

ANDREA MERAZ SEPULVEDA, Citizens Observatory and Human Cooperation, said that there continued to be a structural discrimination problem in Chile which affected mainly indigenous peoples and migrants, despite Chile having signed several international instruments to combat discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin existed in the country and the constant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms constituted a serious problem. The few reform initiatives which had been taken by the Government had been questioned by organizations representing indigenous peoples, because they did not reflect their aspirations and had been carried out without their participation. The climate of legal uncertainty which prevailed in the country had had an impact on the situation of indigenous peoples. Another source of concern was the exploitation of indigenous lands without paying attention to the concerns of indigenous peoples. All social protests by indigenous groups had been violently repressed and criminalized by the State, the police used excessive force against indigenous peoples, and several members of indigenous communities had been wounded as a result of police action. Military courts dealing with such cases lacked the minimum independence and impartiality required to guarantee a fair trial for those prosecuted. The anti-terrorism law should be reviewed and used only for genuine acts of terrorism, not against protesting members of indigenous communities. Racial discrimination also affected indigenous and migrant women, who were particularly vulnerable.

Questions by Experts

REGIS DE GOUTTES, Country Rapporteur for Chile, said that he had received numerous reports on the situation of indigenous groups in Chile, and asked whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been involved in any way in the preparation of the country report. What level of cooperation was there between NGOs and the newly established National Institution for Human Rights in Chile? Persons of African descent were a large minority in the country, so more information should have been provided on their situation. Concerning the much smaller Roma minority, Mr. de Gouttes said that they were called “gitanes” in Chile and were victims of discrimination.

Committee Experts asked whether the International Labour Organization Convention 169 had been integrated into the Chilean Constitution. Concerning the harassment of indigenous groups by the media, was hate language being used? Was there a code of ethics for journalists and for media personnel in general when it came to addressing issues of cultural diversity related to indigenous groups in particular? One Expert asked for more information on the structural discrimination mentioned in the statements made by NGOs.

Another Expert said that the Chilean Constitution prioritized other human rights over the right to non-discrimination, and requested more information on that matter. He also said he had received information that the Mapuche language was prohibited in the schools of the country and that use of other minority languages was prohibited in criminal proceedings, asking the NGO representatives to elaborate on that matter. Regarding the anti-terrorism law, in 2010 the Government had promised not to invoke that law to suppress the Mapuche community. Had Chile honoured that commitment?

The issue of Chilean newspapers referring to Mapuche territories as “red zones” was also raised by an Expert, who asked for clarification on the meaning of that expression and the reasons for its use. More information was requested on the use of Mapuche territories as rubbish dumps.

Response from Non-Governmental Organizations

Concerning the issue of bilingual intercultural education, one speaker said that the Mapuche language was not prohibited in schools but it certainly did not receive adequate support by the State, so it was not available in all schools and children studied it only for two hours a week for the first four years of primary education. The language was not studied in secondary or higher education, and those teaching it were often not members of the Mapuche community. Indigenous women did not have access to education other than primary education, mainly because of the lack of resources and opportunities. As a result, they could not access high-level jobs, and their participation in public life, both at national and at the local level, was extremely limited.

The anti-terrorist law was still being applied in the case of protesting indigenous peoples and there were currently four such cases open. There were serious concerns that the accused would not receive a fair trial. The law in question was still used in a discriminatory way and the police made excessive use of force against members of the indigenous community, including women, during raids. Some training in human rights was offered in the police force but efforts made to improve the situation were far from sufficient.

Another speaker said that the civil society had not been involved in the preparation of the country report, although the Chilean delegation was likely to claim otherwise. Concerning the expression “red zones”, this was used to refer to Mapuche territories. The Mapuche people were regarded as terrorists, because they objected to the exploitation of their natural resources by companies without their consent and protested against that practice.

International instruments such as the International Labour Organization Convention 169 were sometimes not recognized in the Constitution, which is one of the reasons that discrimination persisted. The Chilean delegation should clarify that matter. Big foreign companies practically owned the country, which is why it was essential to establish indigenous means of communication to contribute to the implementation of international anti-discrimination conventions. It was also necessary to strengthen institutions and promote a multicultural society which recognized all ethnic groups and acknowledged their valuable contribution to society. Concerning the Roma community, more awareness-raising programmes were needed to help integrate Roma persons in the community and give them access to public life. Access to higher education for minority members was limited, mainly due to the lack of funding and opportunities available to indigenous communities. The Mapuche people had been referred to as “terrorists” since the end of the dictatorship, and there had been a lack of political will to change the situation and to recognize and understand the traditional life style and customs of the Mapuche.

Follow-up questions by Experts

One Expert said that the anti-terrorist law in question had recently been amended in order to eliminate the presumption of terrorist intent, to lighten its sanctions, and to protect minors, and Chile claimed that its courts used the law impartially. Nevertheless, the law continued to be used against the Mapuche community. The problem seemed to centre around the definition of “terrorist act”. What was the scope of the traditional justice system employed at the local level? To what extent were local traditional judicial practices accepted by the State?

Another Expert wanted to know what the status of minorities such as the Mapuche was in relation to land tenure. Were there indigenous peoples who officially occupied territories in accordance with the laws of the country? What was the primary source of income of the Mapuche people and what was their manpower and their role in the agricultural production chain?

ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, Chairperson of the Committee, asked why no individual complaints had been submitted to the Committee. Chile had recognized the competence of the Committee to consider individual complaints, but the Committee had not received any such communications from Chilean citizens.

Response by Non-Governmental Organizations

One speaker clarified that many members of the Mapuche community lived in isolation and extreme poverty, and had no access to internet or the necessary knowledge and education to make official complaints to the Committee.

Another speaker said that the Mapuche lived in a “state of asylum” in their own territories because their lands were occupied by non-Mapuche persons. There was forced migration of Mapuche to cities in order to access health services and seek employment. Most of the Mapuche land was not easy to cultivate and ensure the necessary levels of agricultural production to feed the population.

The application of the anti-terrorist law was not the only problem, said another speaker. The criminalization of the social protest movement of the Mapuche to reclaim their lands and protect their rights was at the heart of the problem, and the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in that respect only exacerbated the issue. The stigmatization of the Mapuche and the arbitrary application of the law were also a concern.

Another speaker pointed out that members of the Mapuche community had sometimes been forcibly removed from their own territories and faced problems using their own language. Their objective was to gain autonomy and be recognized as a nation, which is how they saw themselves. Mechanisms of traditional justice, whereby local disputes were resolved through appropriate agreements within the community, were not officially recognized by the State and were often applied in secret.

For use of the information media; not an official record