Protests in Chile ahead of April vote

Voters in Chile will decide in April whether they want a new constitution, as President Sebastian Pinera heeds one of the demands of recent anti-government protests.

The protest in Santiago, Chile, on Nov. 4. Originally triggered by a 4% subway fare hike, Chile’s demonstrations quickly became a wide-ranging rejection of government policy.

Chilean police and soldiers responded to recent mass protests in a “fundamentally repressive manner”, committing serious human rights violations – including unlawful killings and torture – that should be prosecuted, UN investigators have concluded.

 UN human rights office said in a report on Friday that it had documented an “alarmingly high number” of 345 people suffering eye injuries after being hit by lead pellets fired from anti-riot shotguns by security forces.

Twenty-six people were killed in the protests that began in October over a rise in metro fares but quickly spiraled out of control.

“We have found that the overall management of assemblies by the police was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner,” the UN mission leader, Imma Guerras-Delgado, told a Geneva news briefing.

UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, from the government of President Sebastián Piñera, which the UN team said had cooperated with its investigation.

During its 30 October-22 November mission, the UN team documented 113 specific cases of torture and ill-treatment – mainly through “severe beatings” – and 24 cases of sexual violence against women, men and adolescents by members of the police and army.

It documented four unlawful deaths “involving state agents”, including two without there having been any apparent risk to the lives of the military personnel, which could amount to an extrajudicial execution, Guerras-Delgado said. Some 1,615 people remain in pre-trial detention among 28,000 detained since mid-October, she said.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera signed on Friday the decree that calls for a constitutional referendum that will focus on the possibility of drafting a new constitution.

“With great joy and enthusiasm, I want to call on all our compatriots to participate in the referendum that we will have on Sunday, April 26 (of 2020),” the president said at an event that took place at La Moneda Palace in Santiago.

“Just as we have said and done over the last 30 years, once again, with pencil and paper, we citizens will be able to express our opinion and define our paths,” he added.

The leader recently passed the reform bill allowing for the referendum that will enable Chilean citizens to decide on whether a new constitution will be drafted.

According to experts, the current Chilean constitution, created in 1980 by Augusto Pinochet, has gone through dozens of reforms, but is now considered by many to be illegitimate due to its origin and because it does not meet the needs of the population.

The drafting of a new constitution was one of the demands made by protesters during the widespread social unrest that began in mid-October.

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