Tue, Nov 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Report documents abuses in Chile

THE GUARDIAN , SANTIAGO, CHILE

A year-long investigation into state-sponsored torture in Chile has documented that an estimated 35,000 people were abused during the 1973 to 1990 military regime.

The report, which has not been made public, identifies dozens of secret facilities under the control of General Augusto Pinochet, who headed the military junta.

The National Commission on Political Prisoners and Torture presented its study to President Ricardo Lagos late last week. The three volumes include hundreds of new claims about torture tactics, ranging from sexual abuse using dogs, to forcing suspects to watch as family members were sodomized or slowly electrocuted.

"This is a historic step. Now those of us who were political prisoners are recognized, both socially and officially," said Mireya Garcia, of the Association of Families of the Dead and Disappeared.

"I hope that this report becomes an integral part of the [educational] formation of new generations, so that in Chile never again is there torture," she said.

The commission, made up of eight civilians and led by Bishop Sergio Valech, was created by Lagos in November last year. A team of 60 people, including lawyers, psychologists and social workers, was involved in producing the report, which was designed to be a historical document rather than a tool for prosecutions. Chileans in 40 countries were interviewed and thousands of testimonies collected.

Lagos said Chile had spent 15 years investigating the crimes of the military government. "How many countries have dared to deeply examine their own history?" he said. "How many have dared dig to the bottom of what happened?"

But human rights groups criticized him for not making the findings public immediately.

Government officials have indicated that Lagos will first spend several weeks reviewing the report, and then determine the amounts of what he has characterized as "austere and symbolic" financial compensation for the victims.

Jose Antonio Gomez, a member of the commission, said the report verified that torture was "not just excesses ... really what we have here was a state policy regarding human rights abuses."

"I am fully convinced of that, and this is shared by the other commission members," he said.

But Jovino Novoa, the president of the rightwing UDI party, downplayed the significance of the report.

"We hope that this report is received and analysed in the context in which these situations occurred," he said. "These acts happened a long time ago, in circumstances in which Chile, and the world, was very different," he said.

Five days before the report was handed over, the Chilean army's commander in chief, Emilio Cheyre, broke with decades of denial to publish a report called The End of a Vision, in which the army admitted institutional responsibility for torture, assassinations and disappearances. His remarks caused a furor elsewhere in the armed forces.

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