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Chile: Controversy Over Pardon Proposal by Catholic Church

As part of the celebrations for the Bicentennial of the Republic, the Chilean Catholic Church has announced a proposal [es] regarding the need to pardon certain people convicted of crimes on humanitarian grounds. In the words of bishop Goic,

Nuestra petición no anula ni contradice el imperio de la Ley y la Justicia, sino que lo supone y lo exige. Es decir, velando por el imperio de la justicia -nada más injusto que la impunidad- y salvaguardando el pleno imperio de los derechos humanos en materia de crímenes de lesa humanidad, creemos que se pueden dar pasos de clemencia, actuando en el marco del estado de Derecho, del ordenamiento constitucional y de los tratados internacionales vigentes

Our request does not override or contradict the rule of law and justice, but it presupposes it and requires it. In other words, ensuring the rule of justice –[there's] nothing more unjust than impunity– and safeguarding the rule of full human rights with regards to crimes against humanity, we believe that steps can be taken for clemency, acting within the rule of law, constitutional law and international treaties in force.

The proposal –announced amid a controversy about allegations of sexual abuse by priest Karadima in Santiago– was sent to President Piñera for his analysis and eventual affirmative answer, causing great controversy across the political spectrum. In particular, for the possibility that this pardon include those convicted of violations of human rights during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The pardon is a long-standing legal institution in Chile. In the words of professor Marcelo Brunet [es]:

(…) el indulto presidencial es un resabio absolutista propia de las monarquías soberanas, una institución propensa a la arbitrariedad y los abusos de poder, que no se justifica en el siglo XXI.

the presidential pardon is an absolutist vice from sovereign monarchies, an institution prone to arbitrariness and abuse of power, which is not justified in the XXI century.

In general, the proposal was accepted only in certain sectors of the political parties that make up the government's coalition [es].

The Association of Families of Dissapeared Detainees strongly opposed the measure. In the words [es] of Mireya García, vice-president of the organization:

La propuesta de la Iglesia no descarta sino que incluye, a pesar de que está señalado en forma bastante diplomática, pero cuando se habla de que hay que tener clemencia en crímenes en contra de la humanidad lo que se está diciendo es que los violadores de Derechos Humanos también son susceptibles de ser beneficiados con un indulto. Es una propuesta que claramente a nosotros nos provoca gran desazón.

The proposal from the Church does not exclude but rather it includes, even though it is stated in quite a diplomatic way, but when it comes to having clemency on crimes against humanity what is being said is that violators of Human Rights are also susceptible to be benefited by the pardon. It is a proposal which clearly causes us great distress.

During this week, the Chilean blogosphere has published a series of interesting articles on the issue. Rodrigo Mora, in Blog de la República [es] opposes the proposal, arguing that,

Sería inconveniente que Piñera sucumbiera a tamaño error de prudencia. El opinante y llanero solitario de los derechos humanos en la derecha podría cometer el peor de todos los errores: la vuelta de los fantasmas y la exhumación de varios cadáveres que ya parecían enterrados y que no estaban ni siquiera desaparecidos.

It would be inconvenient for Piñera to succumb to such a great error of prudence. The opinionated lone ranger of human rights of the right could make the worst of all mistakes: to bring back the ghosts and the exhumation of several cadavers that seemed to be buried and that weren't even missing.

Héctor Salazar, a Human Rights lawyer, writes for El Quinto Pode [es] about the lack of relationship between the country's bicentennial celebrations and the pardon for those who have committed crimes:

Es indudable que un indulto general, decretado por ley, importa un sacrificio importante de justicia, y ello, dentro de un cuadro de impunidad creciente, mas que pacificar, crispa la convivencia social, obteniéndose así lo contrario de lo que sea dice desear: paz y tranquilidad.

There is no doubt that a general pardon, decreed by law, means a significant sacrifice of justice, and this, inside a growing pattern of impunity, rather than pacify, disturbs social life, thus achieving the opposite of what is said to want: peace and tranquility.

Bogger Julio Suárez [es] also opposes the proposal from the Church, saying that,

En Chile, los autores de delitos de lesa humanidad no han sido todos detenidos y procesados y encarcelados. Y muchos que sí lo han sido, recibieron penas leves. ¿Y ahora, indultarlos? El argumento es que son viejos. Sí, son asesinos que se pusieron viejos, no son “viejitos buenos”. ¿Se imaginan, con este argumento del “viejito enfermo”, estar hoy soltando a Paul Shäefer, por indulto?

In Chile, the perpetrators of crimes against humanity have not all been arrested and prosecuted and imprisoned. And many who have, received light sentences. And now, pardon them? The argument is that they are old. Yes, they are murderers who were old, not “good old folks.” Can you imagine, with this argument of “sick old man,” now releasing Paul Shaefer, because of a pardon?

Those who have been in favor of the measure are the  associations of retired military [es], who in a joint declaration argued that,

Expresamos asimismo, nuestra esperanza en que el actual Presidente de Chile, ajeno a indebidas como ofensivas presiones de quienes, interesadamente, insisten en perpetuar la odiosidad y división entre los chilenos, adopte la más sabia y justa resolución en esta trascendente materia que afecta el alma nacional, primando en él su condición del estadista que nuestro país requiere para enfrentar unitariamente su tercera centuria

We also express our hope that the current President of Chile, aside from the improper and offensive pressure from those who, selfishly, insist in perpetuating hate and division among Chileans, adopt a more wise and just resolution in this transcendental matter that affects the nation's soul, prioritizing in his condition as the statesman our country needs to face in unity its third century.

On Sunday, President Sebastián Piñera announced his final decision about the proposal, declaring that [es],

no es conveniente ni prudente, en los actuales tiempos y circunstancias, promover una nueva ley de indulto general.

it is not convenient nor prudent, in the current times and circumstances, to promote a new law on a general pardon.

Nevertheless, he announced that he would use his presidential capacity to pardon in a “very prudent and restrictive” way for humanitarian reasons, leaving aside those convicted of serious crimes, among which he included human rights, terrorism, drug trafficking, rape, homicide and child abuse.  The presidential announcement has been supported [es] across different Chilean political parties. Carlos Moffat, in Blog de la República [es], reflects on this:

Para una coalición que lleva muchos años haciendo de la seguridad ciudadana y de la puerta giratoria un tema de campaña política, un indulto general parecería una contradicción fundamental. Y para esa misma coalición, que debe – a pesar de mucho de sus miembros – demostrarle al país un compromiso más que retórico con la inviolabilidad de los derechos humanos, un indulto a los militares hubiera tenido un costo político significativo, sin ventajas aparentes.

For a coalition that has spent many years talking about citizen security and the revolving door during political campaigns, the general pardon seems to be a fundamental contradiction. And for that same coalition, that must –despite many of its members– show the country a compromise that is more than rhetorical with the inviolability of human rights, a pardon for [those in] the military [involved in human rights abuses] would have had a significant political cost, without [any] apparent advantages.

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