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Latin America: Chile's torture victims to get life pensions|
Posted on Tuesday, November 30 @ 00:00:55 UTC
Report details 'insanity of intense cruelty'
by Tom Burgis in Santiago, The Guardian UK
The Chilean government is to compensate 28,000 victims of torture after a comprehensive report published yesterday concluded that Augusto Pinochet's military government had orchestrated a state policy of terror.
Addressing the nation, President Ricardo Lagos spoke of "the magnitude of the suffering, the insanity of the intense cruelty, the immensity of the pain" detailed in the findings of the national commission on political detention and torture, led by the archbishop emeritus of Santiago, Sergio Valech.
The year-long commission heard testimony from 35,000 people who had been victims of torture during the dictatorship of 1973 to 1990.
Mr Lagos revealed that 94% of those detained had been subjected to torture and that, of the 3,400 women who gave evidence, almost all had been victims of sexual violence.
"How can we explain such horror?" Mr Lagos asked. "I do not have an answer."
He called the report "an experience without precedent in the world" and said it presented Chileans with "an inescapable reality: political detention and torture constituted an institutional practice of the state". He acknowledged that the armed forces had been the instruments of state-sponsored repression.
He said the report should "heal the wounds, not reopen them" and concluded with the words nunca más, never again. The phrase has been daubed on walls the length of Chile. The president called on Chileans to unite in a rejection of torture and oppression "in order that we never again live through it, never again deny it."
While he said the principal act of "moral reparation" was the publication of the report itself, Mr Lagos accepted the commission's recommendations of a life pension for every victim of torture.
"The state must pay compensation, however austere, as a way of recognising its responsibility," he said.
He will send a bill to Congress that will also seek free education and healthcare for victims and their families. The Valech commission believes it heard 28,000 genuine accounts of torture.
The pensions would be worth 112,000 Chilean pesos a month, about £100, around half the average income, and would cost the state about £36m a year.
There are fears that a glut of claims could be a drain on the budget. The education minister, Sergio Bitar, the youngest member of the Allende government when it fell in the 1973 coup and who was later tortured in a concentration camp, yesterday passed up his pension entitlement and called on others who were financially secure to do the same.
The 1,200-page report contains details of torture centres and identifies the 14 main techniques of torture employed, including rape, the use of animals and electric shocks, mock executions and child abuse. It is by far the most exhaustive of the three official studies of the Pinochet human rights legacy compiled to date.
Like collective responsibility in post-war Germany or the truth commission in post-apartheid South Africa, the Valech report offers a chance for Chileans to come to terms with the darkest chapter of their recent history.
Last month, Chile's most senior soldier, General Juan Emilio Cheyre, issued an "institutional" admission of guilt for offences by the army.
That gesture and the Valech report give the lie to what has for 30 years been the line taken by everyone from Gen Pinochet down: that abuses were the work of a handful of renegade officers.
Members of the governing centre-left coalition and human rights groups want public apologies from the navy and air force, the judiciary, the civilian members of the junta - and the media, which failed to investigate a single disappearance in 17 years.
Jovino Novoa, who served under Gen Pinochet from 1979 to 1982 and is now the leader of the opposition Independent Democratic Union, said yesterday that the civilians who participated in good faith in the military government had nothing to be ashamed of and should not apologise.
The report also found that the supreme court had abdicated its responsibility to uphold the constitution and "washed its hands of omissions and abuses committed by military courts", in which opponents of the military government were tried.
Since the return to democracy in 1990, many of the military government's senior figures have been convicted of human rights violations. However, the scalp of Gen Pinochet still eludes prosecutors.
A judge is due to rule early next month whether Gen Pinochet, 89, is mentally fit to face trial for the murder of 19 dissidents in the 1970s.
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