Chile must investigate protest deaths, UN High Commissioner and former president says

Vincent Wood
AFP/Getty

The United Nations High Commissioner for human rights and former president of Chile has called for independent investigations to be held into the deaths of several protesters in the country following days of rioting, looting and arson.

At least 11 people are reported to have died in unrest which began as protests by students opposed to a 4 per cent rise in train fares, but quickly escalated into anger over the cost of living across the country.

The nation’s health minister confirmed some 239 civilians had also been injured in the course of three days of unrest.

Now the UN’s Michelle Bachelet, who served as the nation’s first female president before finishing her second term last year, has called for investigations into the police response to the protests.

The high commissioner added that there were “disturbing allegations of excessive use of force” from security and armed forces tasked with policing the unrest.

“I’m deeply disturbed and saddened to see the violence, destruction, deaths and injuries that have occurred in Chile over the past five days,” Ms Bachelet said.

“It is essential that all actions, by the authorities and by protestors, that have led to injury or death, are subjected to independent, impartial and transparent investigations.”

A state of emergency was declared in the capital of Santiago and five other cities effected by looting and arson – with current president Sebastian Pinera saying more cities would likely follow suit as unrest spread.

His predecessor has urged Mr Pinera to ensure any such declarations, which have allowed for the deployment of soldiers on the capital’s streets for the first time since the country was a military dictatorship, are legal.

“The authorities must act in strict accordance with international human rights standards, and any application of the state of emergency must be exceptional and rooted in law,” she said.

“There are disturbing allegations of excessive use of force by security and armed forces, and I am also alarmed by reports that some detainees have been denied access to lawyers, which is their right, and that others have been mistreated while in detention.”

Mr Pinera, a billionaire conservative, has been criticised for his response to the unrest after saying the protests were organised by “criminals”, adding “We're at war against a powerful and implacable enemy who doesn't respect anything or anyone, and who's willing to use limitless violence and criminal acts."

The president attempted to stem the outrage on Saturday, declaring he would cancel the fare increase that sparked outrage in the country.

However the scope of the protest has advanced beyond transport in a country where low wages, underfunded health systems and low pensions have caused financial difficulties for millions.

Chile suffers one of the worst rates of income inequality among OECD countries – with only Costa Rica and South Africa experiencing a greater divide between the rich and the poor.

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