Stand with Indigenous Mapuche Political Prisoners Exposed to Covid 19 in Chile’s Jails

Petition Presented by Auspice Stella Human Rights Observatory
(Auspice Stella is a non-governmental organisation with Special Consultative Status to the United Nations)

13 July 2020

There are presently 20 indigenous Mapuche political prisoners engaged in hunger strike, as they enter day 71 of the protest. Many of them in such critical condition that their lives are now in serious jeopardy. The hunger Strike initiated by Machi (Mapuche spiritual leader) Celestino Córdova in Temuco Prison was joined by Angol detainees, Sergio Levinao Levinao, Víctor Llanquileo Pilquimán, Juan Calbucoy Montanares, Juan Queipul Millanao, Freddy Marileo Marileo, Danilo Nahuelpi Millanao y Reinaldo Penchulef Sepúlveda; Antu Llanca (Angol) became the 9th Mapuche to join the protest on the 18th of the month. Whilst a further 11 Mapuche Political Prisoners, Eliseo Raiman Coliman, Matias Leviqueo Concha, Carlos Huichacura Leviqueo, Manuel Huichacura Leviqueo, Esteban Huichacura Leviqueo, Guillermo Camus Jara, Cesar Millanao Millanao, Orlando Saez Ancalan, Damian Saez Saez, Robinson Parra Saez, Oscar Pilquiman Pilquiman from Lebu prison joining the strike on 6th July.

On 4th May Mapuche Political Prisoners took the grave decision to initiate a hunger strike as their only available means of protest against the life threatening conditions under which they are presently detained due to the pandemic. The men state unequivocally that they are innocent of the charges made against them. Their demands are simply to receive a fair trial with due process be removed from prison to serve out their sentences under the safety of house arrest in accordance with ILO Convention 169. In addition they request the same measures be implemented for all non-indigenous political prisoners currently detained in Chilean jails.

Chile’s prisons are historically understaffed and overcrowded with unsanitary living conditions, under these circumstances social distancing and hand hygiene are made almost impossible, rendering inmates highly susceptible to contracting the virus.
Under these terrible conditions the hunger strikers remain isolated with little or no contact with the external world, friends, family and spiritual authorities.

According to the legal framework of ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, to which Chile is a signatory, the state is obliged to provide to indigenous peoples alternative methods of punishment to those of confinement to prison. The United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and other relevant international instruments further codify these inherent rights.

The Mapuche political prisoners, many of whom are traditional ancestral leaders, are accused of so called ‘terrorist crimes’ under anti-terrorist law No 20.467 introduced during the era of the Pinochet dictatorship with which to silence democratic dissent.

In recent decades the peaceful protest of Mapuche communities against the commercial activities of extractive industries harmful to the environment, within Mapuche ancestral territory (Wallmapu) have been met by violent State repression. In this context anti-terrorist law is unjustly applied as a means of sabotage against indigenous land rights and environmental defenders. Under the anachronistic law those charged are put on trial in military courts where the evidence of anonymous witnesses are used to achieve convictions. The law also allows for extended pre-trial detention with many Mapuche spending years in prison before being found, in many instances, innocent of all charges.

During the mass protests of 2019 by both indigenous and non-indigenous citizens no less than 28,000 people were arrested and detained for minor public order offences, many remain incarcerated in pre-trial detention under law 20.467. A recent ruling by the Court of Appeals overturned a decision to allow 13 such protesters held in preventive detention under anti-terrorist law to be placed under house arrest. In addition the ruling judge Daniel Urrutia Laubreaux was subsequently suspended from his position, a judicial measure of great concern to democratic values in a post dictatorship society.

Between 18th March and 31st May the Chilean government sanctioned the release of 13,321 inmates from Chile’s prisons to protect against Covid 19, yet none have been of indigenous ethnicity, this disproportionality speaks to the racism inherent in the Chilean justice system.

To date 20 Mapuche in as many years have been murdered, many by police officers, with the most recent death of Alejandro Traiquil occurring in June 2020. The murders of two unarmed Mapuche men, Camilo Catrillanca and Alex Lemun have also been the beneficiaries of premature release despite that these offences are classified as higher criminal convictions than those of the Mapuche currently detained, many on pre-trial detention.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International states that “the Chilean authorities must immediately desist from criminalising the Mapuche people and their leaders under the Anti-Terrorism Law. The Chilean state has an obligation not to discriminate against Mapuche people and must guarantee their right to fair trials instead of labelling them as ‘terrorists’. Rights to self-determination, autonomy, and freedom are discredited by the State’s ongoing discriminatory application of the anti-terrorism laws criminalising peaceful protest and is indicative of deep-rooted discrimination against Indigenous groups in Chile. Discrimination in the justice system is intertwined with systematic corruption in national police forces who use excessive force and engage in unlawful activities to harm, criminalise, and imprison Indigenous Peoples.”

Whilst the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has determined that the prosecution of Mapuche persons under the Anti-Terrorism Law violates their judicial guarantees, and has been based on stigma and discrimination.

Today the lives of the 20 Mapuche political prisoners on hunger strike, unjustly incarcerated simply for the defence of Mother Earth and their homelands tragically rest in the hands of an indifferent yet divisive government bent on their elimination.

The power of global counter pressure is in our hands! Please sign our petition today and send a clear message to President Piñera and the Justice and Human Rights minister Hernán Larraín Fernández to safeguard the lives of Mapuche leaders.

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