Chile's N.G.O.'s Criticize Bachelet's Human Rights Lobbying

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (center) attends the 62nd U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP-Getty Images)

Chilean civil society organizations have criticized President Michelle Bachelet's campaign to get Chile a seat in the United Nation's Human Rights Council. Activists are demanding more progress on both human rights cases stemming from the Pinochet dictatorship and indigenous rights issues before Chile assumes such a high-profile position.

Venezuela's surprise announcement not to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council has paved the way for Chile to assume one of the three positions designated to Latin American countries. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had been expected to put up a fight to obtain the seat. Brazil and Argentina are the two other countries that have expressed their desire to be part of the organization.

"Chile's presence in the council would be truly counterproductive," Paula Acevedo, the coordinator of a current nationwide campaign to promote indigenous rights and culture, told The Santiago Times on Sept. 26. "This very organization [the Human Rights Council] has already criticized Chile for human rights violations left over from the Pinochet dictatorship and indigenous rights. Specifically, in March, it gave Chile one year to show significant progress in these areas. Before coming part of that body, Chile should first show that it has advanced in those two areas."

Human rights groups also expressed their discontent with Chile's efforts to gain a seat on the council. Through an official press communiqué, The Families of Disappeared Detainees, which is comprised of families of those who were "disappeared" during the Pinochet dictatorship, criticized Bachelet's use of the Fujimori extradition to Chile's advantage.

"We are concerned that Fujimori's extradition is being used to both paint the picture of Chile as a model for human rights and to support the country's efforts to gain a spot in the Human Rights Council. There are many inconsistencies which debunk those pretensions," said the Disappeared Detainees press release. "Chile has maintained repressive internal policies, maintains a constitution inherited from a dictator … has not found out the truth about Chile's disappeared detainees, has not given due compensation to those who were tortured, is trying to create its own Human Rights Institute which has no judicial power whatsoever, has not included human rights in the country's school curriculums, and does not guarantee social justice."

Meanwhile, the executive director for Amnesty International Chile, Sergio Laurenti, downplayed the Human Rights Council's significance by underscoring its contradictions.

"Belonging to this council is not necessarily synonymous with having a good human rights record … there are already serious human rights violators, such as China and Cuba, which already form part of that body," Laurenti told The Santiago Times on Sept. 26. "Still, we are confident that Chile will raise its voice with respect to human rights if it obtains such a position."

Acevedo, however, was far less optimistic.

"If Chile does get the position, the only effect would be to promote more debate and to give civil society organizations more ammunition to use when confronting Chile's government [on human rights issues]."

Venezuela's decision to step down came as Bachelet continued her busy schedule at the United Nations' 62nd General Assembly in New York, much of it designed to showcase Chile's credentials for the position. Her agenda, for example, included a Sept. 25 meeting with international watchdog organization Human Rights Watch, where she underlined her efforts to strengthen Chile's international human rights agenda.

"Developing a more just and humane international order is only possible if we have respect for human beings at the center of the debate, a respect that is not dependent on religion, race, sex, or social status," said Bachelet. "In Chile we are working toward bettering our internal legal practices while promoting a consolidation of human rights issues as a new pillar in the U.N. system, alongside economic and social development, peace, and security."

Bachelet also recently promoted Chile's human rights position during a two-week tour of Asian nations that was also designed, in part, to secure the United Nations position. That trip culminated in a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Australia earlier last month.

From The Santiago Times.