Chilean human rights and memory organisations have long pointed out that the Chilean military is one main factor obstructing the course of justice with regard to dictatorship-era crimes. The pact of silence has provided impunity for the many officials, agents and soldiers involved in torturing, murdering and disappearing dictatorship opponents between 1973 and 1990.
The military’s crimes against humanity have not receded from Chile’s memory. As the country maintains its mobilisation against the dictatorship-era constitution and President Sebastian Pinera’s neoliberal politics, the violence meted out against protestors has reignited the importance of looking at history to define the present. Since the protests started, the UN has recorded at least 130 cases of abuse and 24 cases of sexual violence against women, men and children. As a result of the military shooting at protestors in the face, 350 people have lost an eye. In all, 28,000 Chileans have been detained since the start of the demonstrations. There is nothing to suggest that the Chilean government will be investigating the crimes committed against civilians rejecting the neoliberal model and calling for an inclusive society.
Meanwhile, Chilean soldiers deployed in Haiti as part of the UN peacekeeping forces have been accused of sexual abuse and the rape of women and minors between 2004 and 2017. According to reports, Chilean soldiers have been implicated in one third of the cases related to sexual abuse.
UN peacekeeping missions are rife with opportunities for human rights abuses. To compound the widespread impunity, perpetrators are merely removed from the scene once discovered, thus bearing no responsibility for the violations, or the children fathered through bouts of sexual abuse. Following repatriation, the accused officials are not investigated. Chilean peacekeeping forces will also likely face no repercussions back home, as the government has opposed an investigation into the perpetration of sexual abuse by its deployed forces.
A proposal brought forward to create a commission for the purpose of investigating the abuse committed by Chilean troops in Haiti was at first rejected by parliament. The proposal sought to “clarify facts”; the reason being “the international image of our country is being questioned”. Such reasoning already provides troops with a promise of impunity, with Chile’s reputation, or lack of it, being prioritised over the implications of involvement in human rights violations.
Chile’s opposition has deemed the sexual abuse allegations as international crimes, stating, “We cannot have rapists representing the State of Chile in peace missions!”
The statement, however, omits an ugly reality which Chileans have been fighting for decades to bring to light – the Chilean military’s history of sexual abuse, among other human rights violations, including torture. The military’s pact of silence, as well as the government’s refusal to address military impunity, has resulted in impunity for soldiers involved in abuse against Chileans, while exploiting military violence to other countries.
Yet rapists within the Chilean military since the dictatorship era have not been the centre of attention politically. The right-wing’s adulation for the military dictatorship, as well as Augusto Pinochet’s constitution which provides impunity for agents involved in human rights abuses, requires further political attention in Chile. Without a thorough assessment and legal action against perpetrators, the rights struggle in Chile will remain confined to memory. For the government and the military, this is an ideal scenario as it diverts attention away from the collusion between the dictatorship legacy and subsequent governments from the democratic transition onwards.
In addition, human rights abuses committed by Chilean troops abroad will escape the scrutiny both in terms of the violations as well as the legacy which remains powerful in the country. Three strands of violations, all connected to each other due to the perpetrators’ affiliation, have brought the Chilean military’s violent framework to the fore. Just as the protestors in Chile are reconnecting with their past to reclaim their narratives for justice, the abuses committed abroad must also be analysed within the impunity framework that has been afforded to the state institution for decades.