Many of you helped the Amnesty movement send thousands of messages from Canada and around the world to authorities in Chile as part of our 2020 Write for Rights campaign in support of Gustavo Gatica. Police blinded the psychology student when they shot at people participating in massive, inspiring demonstrations that continued for months, demanding an end to increasing inequality in the South American country. Our messages ensured that this crime could not be swept under the carpet. Chilean authorities were put on notice that the eyes of the world were watching and that everyone has the right to protest injustice without fear of harm from state security forces.
Since then, Amnesty published a rigorous report entitled Eyes on Chile: Police Violence and Chain of Command Responsibility During the Period of Social Unrest. It concludes that Chilean police perpetrated widespread human rights violations against people exercising their right to peaceful protest, and that commanders failed to stop the violent repression, which resulted in thousands of injuries and dozens killed. Our report also concludes that the actions and omissions of the General Director of the police at the time of the events, and the current General Director of the police, who was Director for Order and Security at the time, should be investigated.
This fall, due to the appointment of a new, highly respected prosecutor, there is a possibility for advances towards previously unthinkable accountability for the police and their commanders. This is incredibly important! It would provide justice for Gustavo. It would also create a precedent that will protect the right to protest in Chile. That’s why we are asking you to take action once again.
Note: this action can take place right away. Or you could time it around the following important dates: October 18 – the third anniversary of the start of the protests that were brutally repressed AND November 8 – the date that Gustavo Gatica was shot by police.
1. Write a letter to Chile’s Attorney General
Your letter should be short, respectful, personalized (feel free to add comments to the main points below), and help increase pressure for investigations into command responsibility.
- Explain where you are writing from (because authorities in Chile care about their international reputation) and express your concern that Gustavo Gatica was shot in the eyes and left permanently blind when police opened fire on protestors on November 8, 2019.
- Refer to Amnesty’s report, Eyes on Chile, and its conclusion that actions and omissions by the General Director of the police and the Director for Order and Security at the time allowed widespread, grave human rights violations to be perpetrated.
- Call for the Attorney General to ensure justice for Gustavo Gatica by not just identifying and holding accountable the individuals directly responsible for his injuries, but also by charging and prosecuting all those in command responsibility whose orders and omissions allowed the widespread violation of the right to personal integrity of protestors to occur, including the blinding of Gustavo Gatica.
- Also call for the General Director of the police to be removed from his position until his responsibility for alleged human rights violations has been investigated impartially and judicially determined.
Send your letter to:
Jorge Abbott Charme
Santiago de Chile
2. Build pressure on the authorities via Social Media
Chilean authorities are attentive to messages that mention them on Twitter. Increase pressure on the Attorney General and the police by tagging them in your tweets.
Tweet #1: For #GustavoGatica, and hundreds of others, now is the time for @FiscaliadeChile to #ChargethoseResponsible for widespread human rights violations. #ProtectTheProtest
Tweet #2: .@FiscaliadeChile #ChargethoseResponsible for allowing eye mutilation of #GustavoGatica, and hundreds of others during peaceful demonstrations. #ProtectTheProtest.
Tweet #3: It’s time for @FiscaliadeChile to #ChargethoseResponsible of @CarabinerosdeChile. We want justice in Chile and an end to impunity for widespread HRVs. #ProtectTheProtest
Gustavo Gatica is a recently graduated psychology student in Santiago, Chile. On 8 November 2019, he attended a protest in the context of mass demonstrations across the country over rising inequality. These protests made the headlines the world over as an inspiring and unexpected upsurge of people power, the so called ‘estallido social’.
Police violently repressed the protest that Gustavo attended, as well as many others over the following months, indiscriminately opening fire on demonstrators with riot shotguns. Shotguns were loaded with rubberized buckshot, in violation of international standards for the use of force. Gustavo was struck with this buckshot in both eyes and was left permanently blind. Thousands of others were injured. Dozens were killed.
Following Gustavo’s shooting, Chilean police opened an internal investigation into the events but concluded that no-one in the institution could be held responsible in the case. The investigation went so far as to suggest Gustavo could have been injured by the demonstrators themselves!
Promising New Developments
At the beginning of 2022, the Chilean Attorney General’s Office appointed a new prosecutor to lead three ongoing investigations involving command responsibility in the context of the 2019 protests: one into crimes against humanity and two related to command responsibility for widespread torture and serious injuries. She is a well-respected prosecutor, also in charge of Gustavo Gatica’s case, and who already investigated G-3, mid-ranking commander likely involved in the attack on Gustavo.
This prosecutor considers that our report, Eyes on Chile, supports her own findings of widespread and systematic harm caused mainly by shotguns and buckshot, due to the deliberate omissions of Police commanders. Gustavo’s case is extremely strategic to ensuring lawsuits on command responsibility move forward, as the use of highly damaging ammunition is key to proving criminal responsibility of those commanders in charge of police operations.
The Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating command responsibility for these events and could be formally charging commanders and high-ranking officials in September 2022, in what would be a historic step towards justice and accountability for police violence.
This is why it is an important moment to raise our voices again and call on prosecutors to ensure justice for Gustavo and thousands of other victims of violations to their physical integrity. This requires identifying and prosecuting the direct perpetrators of the attacks, as well as the senior officials whose responsibility was to control the forces under their command and prevent human rights violations from occurring.
Thank you for your activism! Together we can achieve change!
This blog was prepared by Amnesty Canada’s Latin America campaigner Kathy Price.
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