At the end of August, the Chilean government announced that it would take over the search for the 1,162 victims of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) who remain missing to this day. Since then, one question in particular has been the subject of debate: how to obtain the information necessary for a successful search if the information obtained so far by truth commissions is secret?
The Valech Commission, created in 2003, which documented torture against thousands of people during the dictatorship, committed to maintaining the confidentiality of the information obtained for 50 years. President Gabriel Boric’s government, according to a bill presented to Congress last week, intends to suspend the confidentiality of testimonies, to help implement the National Plan for the Search for Truth and Justice. The idea is to do it partially and with reservations.
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It is an old wish of Boric, who supported a similar proposal when he was a deputy, in 2016. This time, his office considered issuing a decree, but in the end decided to submit the issue to Congress, where he does not have a majority in either the Chamber or the Senate. The Minister of Justice, Luis Cordero, thinks it is possible to reverse the minority in a case like this. “There is a strong enough persuasive motive for us to get the votes.”
When Ricardo Lagos’ administration (2000-2006) set the deadline at 50 years, two decades ago, the then president explained that it was a gesture of respect for the victims, who did not want to be alive when their confidences came to light.
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A speech by the Minister of Women and Gender Equality, Antonia Orellana, gives a clue as to what motivates many victims to prefer secrecy. “On days when it is said that sexual violence against women detained in torture centers is an urban legend, it would be good to remember that more than 3,000 women said they had been victims of this violence”, she stated during the announcement of the project.
Last week, Cordero claimed that the information, if accessed before the deadline was met, would only be used for the search program, so that the circumstances faced by the victims could be known and data could be compared with those of ongoing judicial investigations. .
“The purpose is to fulfill one of the objectives of the plan, which is to trace the trajectory of each of the detained and missing people, so that this information can be revealed at the moment relevant discoveries are made, with the prior consent of the victims or heirs” , stated the minister.
“I want to be very emphatic. The victims decide what is done with this information”, said the Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Álvaro Elizalde. “If a victim objects, that is their right and we will always respect their decision.”
Other projects presented in the same package intend to create the classification of crimes of forced disappearance and a national memory and heritage policy, to improve the mechanisms for financing and maintaining memory spaces, in addition to eliminating the secret, reserved or restricted circulation nature of a set of laws created during the dictatorship, among other proposals. Some of them are new, others have been in progress for many years.
The Political Prison and Torture Commission, led by former bishop Sergio Valech (hence the nickname), produced a report that reported 28,459 cases of illegal arrests, torture, executions and disappearances, in addition to more than 800 torture centers. During Michelle Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010), another commission, known as Valech 2, was formed, which discovered the existence of 9,795 new victims of political imprisonment and torture.
(With information from El País, La Tercera and Folha de S.Paulo)
Editing: Thales Schmidt