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Chile Security Forces Accused of Gross Violations in Quelling Protests

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against Chile's government, in Santiago, Chile Dec. 10, 2019.

UN investigators accused Chile's police and army of indiscriminate violence and gross violations, including torture and rape, in crushing recent mass protests over social and economic grievances.

An investigative team from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produced a 30-page report expressing alarm at the excessive use of force by security agents. It said Chile's violent crackdown on protesters resulted in the reported deaths of dozens of people, a high number of injuries, and the arbitrary detentions of thousands of demonstrators.

Chile's Office of the Public Prosecutor says it is investigating 26 deaths. The report holds state agents responsible for many of these deaths, noting that live ammunition was used in some cases.

The Chilean Ministry of Justice reports that nearly 5,000 people, more than half of whom were police officers, have been injured during the protests. UN sources say the number of injured is higher than that cited by government officials. They accuse state agents of unnecessary and disproportionate use of less-lethal weapons, such as anti-riot shotguns, during peaceful demonstrations.

Imma Guerras-Delgado headed the mission to Chile, which took place in the first three weeks of November. She said the demonstrations that have been occurring since mid-October were triggered by multiple causes, including social and economic inequality.

"The majority of those who have exercised the right to assembly during this period have done so in a peaceful manner," Guerras-Delgado said. "We have found that the overall management of assemblies by the police was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner."

Guerras-Delgado said the mission is particularly concerned by the use of pellets containing lead. She said hundreds of people suffered eye injuries, causing blindness in a number of cases, and condemned the brutal suppression of peaceful nationwide protests by the police and army.

"Human rights violations documented by OHCHR [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] include the excessive or unnecessary use of force that led to unlawful killings and injuries, arbitrary detentions and torture and ill treatment," she said.

Among its recommendations, the report urges Chile to immediately end the indiscriminate use of anti-riot shotguns to control demonstrations. It also calls on the government to make sure security forces adopt measures to guarantee accountability for human rights violations and to prevent the recurrence of similar events.