Chilean Victims Plan Criminal Complaints Against Military
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Victims of human rights abuse are planning ″a giant wave″ of criminal complaints after the military steps aside in March, posing a potentially risky problem for the new civilian government.
The military, which has ruled for the last 16 years, has made it clear it will not tolerate prosecutions of its members even though it will be out of office. But the victims and their relatives insist they will not give up their demands for justice.
The independent Chilean Human Rights Commission says it has 124,000 cases of human rigts violations ″duly documented, ready to be brought before the courts″ immediately after the inauguration of the new government. Most of them involve military officials.
″It will be a giant wave of trials,″ said Gonzalo Taborga, the commission official in charge of international affairs.
″We will encourage people to bring their cases to the courts, because justice is essential for the stability of our future democracy,″ Taborga said in an interview.
Many Chileans fear that pushing the human rights issue too hard could trigger a violent reaction by the military and put the new civilian government in danger. President-elect Patricio Aylwin takes office March 11, replacing the longtime right-wing military ruler, Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Pinochet recently warned, ″If one of my men is touched, the rule of law will be broken.″
Pinochet, who seized power in a bloody 1973 coup, plans to stay on as commander of the powerful 60,000-men army. He is sheltered by a clause in the 1980 constitucion, drawn up by his regime, which prevents Aylwin from naming a new commander.
Taborga dismissed the danger of a new coup as a result of the trials.
″It will be the other way around,″ he said. ″The trials will strengthen democracy and the sense of justice.″
Aylwin has vowed ″to find the truth and do justice″ in the human rights violations. But he has also stressed the need for ″extreme prudence.″
He also has promised to seek compensation for many of the victims.
After the 1973 coup, thousands of supporters of the toppled leftist government were detained. Many were killed, tortured or confined to secret prisons or detention camps. Tens of thousands were forced into exile abroad.
Francisco Cumplido, Aylwin’s appointed minister of Justice, said the future government ″will fulfill its promise of finding the truth and doing justice in the human rights abuses.″
″We will of course act with the political caution required in such a complex problem, combining the interests of the victims with the stability of the government,″ Cumplido said.
But he added, ″We are not saying that a reason of state may prevent seeking the truth, doing justice and compensating the victims.″
In an interview earlier with the Santiago daily Las Ultimas Noticias, Cumplido was quoted as saying the armed forces can be assured that the new government is not planning ″a witch hunt″ on the human rights issue.
Aylwin and his top aides have said any problems in the human rights area will be dealt with through the regular courts and not, as some have suggested, through special tribunals or commissions.
But still it will be a complicated situation for the Aylwin government, caught between the warnings from the military, and the often impassionate pressures for justice from the victims and their relatives and from political groups, many of them his allies.
The military government issued an amnesty law in 1978 covering all the abuses occurred since the 1973 coup.
Aylwin’s platform calls for ″repealing or anulling,″ that law, but recently his aides have suggested such an action, fiercely opposed by the military, may be dropped.
Cumplido told Las Ultimas Noticias that there is ″an alternative strategy″ for achieving justice in pre-1978 cases without necessarily repealing the amnesty.
He did not elaborate, but the comment, supported by other Aylwin aides, seemed aimed at appeasing the military on an issue that is widely expected to be the most sensitive in the relations between the armed forces and the new civilian government.