ON THE STATUS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHILE
of “on the spot” Observations in
FOR AN INDETERMINATE TIME AND
WHO HAVE DISAPPEARED
The Commission determined in a number of cases—perhaps in the case of
most of the prisoners who were found in prisons and detention camps—that
prisoners were deprived of their liberty beginning the first days following
September 11, 1973, without being charged with any crime and without being
called to testify before any authority, except the arresting agents.
It is true that the Constitution of the Republic does not place a time
limit on deprivation of liberty that can be ordered by the Executive Branch in
cases of internal disturbance. But it is also true that the Constitution assumes
that the Executive Branch will exercise that power under the control of a
Congress composed of representatives of various political parties and empowered
to demand an accounting of the Executive Branch for any use it may make of that
The dissolution of the Parliamentary Branch of the Government, ordered by
the Military Junta, along with the absolute outlawing of some parties and the
prohibition of any activity by all the others, aggravated by silencing any
criticism that might come from the major organs of the media, and by the
passivity of some of the Magistrates of the Judiciary, has caused the
disappearance of any obstacle in the way of the completely discretional exercise
of the power conferred on the Executive Branch by the Constitution.
It is very difficult to understand why girls and boys of 16 years of age
are deprived of liberty, as constituting a danger for the maintenance of order,
for over 10 months; why persons are kept in jail without a single charge brought
against them, when foreign countries offer to take them into their territory,
and their diplomats undertake to ensure their effective transfer; and shy, after
so much time of deprivation of liberty, there was the attempt at the time of the
Commission's visit to justify prolonged detention for some prisoners by stating
that investigations were being made to determine whether there was any tax
In this way, a constitutional mechanism created to ensure order and the
observance of democratic institutions had been transformed into a factor of
disturbance in the social life, and into an instrument to attack basic rights.
In addition, the indiscriminate use of the power of administrative arrest
of persons had substantially affected the possibility of duly counting or
registering prisoners, to duly verify their identity. The number of cases in
which persons disappeared after their arrest and whose whereabouts were unknown
was very high. This of course constituted one of the factors causing the
greatest concern and anxiety in Chilean families. There were hundreds of persons
who were anxious to know the whereabouts of a parent, a spouse, or a child. The
office installed by the Government of Santiago to provide that information was
inadequate to reply to such questions.
Regarding this problem, the selfless task performed by the United Nations
Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees should be stressed.
Similarly, the private agency called the National Commission for Aid to
Refugees has done extraordinary work and brought tranquility to many families by
locating persons regarding whom there was no information.