Mon, Oct 16, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Chilean government set to mothball amnesty law


Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, second from the right, walks on Saturday next to her mother Angela Jeria, right, Rodrigo Del Villar, left, and Margarita Romero along the memorial to the missing from General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship at Villa Grimaldi, a torture center in Santiago.


President Michelle Bachelet paid an emotional visit on Saturday to a torture center where she and her mother were abused three decades ago.

During her visit, she said that her government will move to repeal an amnesty law that has prevented prosecution of human rights violations.

Formerly a notorious center where ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet's security forces jailed, tortured and killed dissidents, the Villa Grimaldi farm has since been turned into a peace park with a monument to those who suffered there.

In a speech, Bachelet noted that what once "was a place of terror, pain and sadness" has become "a space of hope, liberty and peace."

In 1975, Bachelet, then a 22-year-old medical student, and her mother were held there for several weeks.

She has never described the period in detail, but they were reportedly subjected to some manner of abuse and were almost constantly kept blindfolded.

Chile's first female president appeared tense on Saturday as she arrived at Villa Grimaldi, where some 4,500 dissidents were held between 1973 and 1978.

Most were tortured, many were killed and more than 200 were never heard from again.

According to a report by a commission appointed by the first post-Pinochet civilian government, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons under the 1973-1990 dictatorship, including 1,197 who were disappeared.

Efforts to try those responsible for abuses have been hampered by an amnesty law passed in 1978 under Pinochet.

On Saturday, Bachelet said that the Inter-American Human Rights Court had recently ruled that the amnesty violates international law, and added that her administration would move to repeal it.

"The government will soon announce measures that will ensure that the Chilean state will act in accordance with international law," she said.

Since the end of the Pinochet regime in 1990, right-wing opposition parties have managed to successfully block efforts by congress to mothball the amnesty.

A court recently stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution, a decision wich cleared the way for his indictment on torture and kidnapping charges for the abuses at Villa Grimaldi.

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