By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
SANTIAGO, Chile – The Roman Catholic Church recently called on conservative Chilean President Sebastian Piñera to pardon long-serving human rights violators.
Specifically, The Chilean Bishops’ Conference urged President Piñera to show clemency to prisoners who showed repentance from human rights violations that occurred during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Many of the longest-serving prisoners are elderly and ill, including ex-military officials who were directly responsible for abuses. The proposed pardon would have pardoned 60 individuals. The Church’s actions come while Chile is set to commemorate 200 years of Chilean independence.
The Church set specific parameters for those that they seek to be pardoned: individuals who are over 70 years old, have served at least half of their sentence, and who are ill.
The Pinochet regime, which lasted from 1973-1990, saw more than 3,000 Chileans killed at the military’s hands. In a letter sent to President Piñera, the Bishops’ Conference stated that not all human rights violators shared equal responsibility. The letter provoked a great deal of public outcry from family members representing those who were killed and tortured on Pinochet’s watch. The victims’ families called the request a setback for justice and fairness.
Despite the effort, the Chilean President has refused to offer a pardon stating, “I have reached the conclusion that it would not be prudent or convenient in the current circumstances to promote a new law of general pardon.”
President Piñera was, however, receptive to the Church’s proposal for improving the country’s prison system, according to the President of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference. The measures include improving facilities and building more jails to curb overpopulation.
While President Piñera closed the door to a broad sweeping pardon, he did leave the option open for the government to consider pardons on an individualized basis. However, Piñera also said that no pardons would be considered for those who violated serious crimes, including murder and torture.
Mireya Garcia, vice president of the Group of Relatives of the Detainees and Disappeared, expressed concerns over this case-by-case evaluation. Garcia fears that people who are sentenced under different categories, but who committed human rights violations, might be incorrectly pardoned.
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director for Human Rights Watch, applauded President Piñera’s decision. Vivanco stated that the Church simply did not offer any compelling reason why these human rights abusers should be pardoned.
Merco Press – Piñera Rejects Bishops’ Plea To Pardon Military Involved In Human Rights Abuses – 26 July 2010
NPR – Chile Rejects Pardons Proposed By Catholic Church – 25 July 2010
New York Times – Chile Rejects Church Call To Pardon Officials – 25 July 2010