Indigenous Chileans Silenced by the IACHR


(Segundo Aniceto Norin Catriman)

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) heard a case at the start of June involving several Indigenous Chileans known as ‘Mapuche,’ who brought suit against Chile regarding Chilean authorities’ use of an anti-terrorist law.  Chilean authorities have been applying the law to cases involving Mapuche land reclamation.  Under said law, authorities can hold suspects without bail ahead of their trial, the cases can be heard by military courts, anonymous testimony can be submitted as evidence, and charges made against suspects can carry greater punishments than under normal Chilean law.  Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have noted their concerns about the application of the Chilean anti-terrorist law against the Mapuche in the south of Chile.

Under Chile’s anti-terrorist law, Mapuche leader, Segundo Aniceto Norin Catriman was sentenced to five years and a day for arson and making ‘terrorist threats’ against landowners whose property was set ablaze, while activist Patricia Troncoso Robles was charged and sentenced to ten years and a day for the arson.  The plaintiffs hoped to gain justice, or to at least be heard at the IACHR.  Seven Mapuche plaintiffs were present at the trial at the IACHR, but only three of them were allowed to tell their stories.  Norin and Troncoso were two of the plaintiffs not permitted to speak before the court.

Discussing the IACHR, Troncoso noted, “We went there to discuss, we were invited. This organization had the responsibility of generating a summary of the process of reclaiming our lands, and our fight against the state and the state against us.”  Troncoso continued, “We had the responsibility to tell about the experiences we’ve had. What we wanted was to accomplish a profound analysis of the situation because it isn’t simple.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was established in 1979 and is based in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Under Article 1 of its statute, it is written, “The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution whose purpose is the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights. The Court exercises its functions in accordance with the provisions of the aforementioned Convention and the present Statute.”  It thus appears that the IACHR defers to the following Convention.


American Convention on Human Rights

In Article 1 of the American Convention on Human Rights, its is written, “The States Parties to this Convention undertake to respect the rights and freedoms recognized herein and to ensure to all persons subject to their jurisdiction the free and full exercise of those rights and freedoms, without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth, or any other social condition.”

Article 8 of the Convention states, “Every person has the right to a hearing, with due guarantees and within a reasonable time, by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, previously established by law, in the substantiation of any accusation of a criminal nature made against him or for the determination of his rights and obligations of a civil, labor, fiscal, or any other nature.”

Article 41 of the convention lays out the functions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: “The main function of the Commission shall be to promote respect for and defense of human rights. In the exercise of its mandate, it shall have the following functions and powers:

a. to develop an awareness of human rights among the peoples of America;

b. to make recommendations to the governments of the member states, when it considers such action advisable, for the adoption of progressive measures in favor of human rights within the framework of their domestic law and constitutional provisions as well as appropriate measures to further the observance of those rights;

c. to prepare such studies or reports as it considers advisable in the performance of its duties;

d. to request the governments of the member states to supply it with information on the measures adopted by them in matters of human rights;

e. to respond, through the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, to inquiries made by the member states on matters related to human rights and, within the limits of its possibilities, to provide those states with the advisory services they request;

f. to take action on petitions and other communications pursuant to its authority under the provisions of Articles 44 through 51 of this Convention; and

g. to submit an annual report to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.”


Is it fair that the plaintiffs were not allowed to make their case?  They were charged and sentenced as terrorists in Chile, and thus lost many of their rights under the Chilean anti-terrorist law; should they have at least been able to share their side of the story with the IACHR?  Does it seem based on the provisions of the Statute of the IACHR and the American Convention on Human Rights that these plaintiffs should have been awarded fair representation at the hearings, or do you think the Court was correct in silencing them because of their classification as terrorists in Chile? The IACHR is expected to release its decision anyday now, to indicate its stand on Chile’s use of the anti-terrorist law on the Mapuche.


Santiago Times

Statute of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (University of Minnesota Human Rights Library)

American Convention on Human Rights (

One comment

  1. In any trial setting, both sides should be allowed to be heard. What is especially alarming is the IACHR is an “autonomous” judicial institution, meaning, it makes its own decisions and procedures. In this case, it seems that the IACHR took Chile’s perspective, categorizing these acts as “terrorism” and limiting the rights of the plaintiffs.
    The government of Chile is using this law to regain land. While that does not, in any way, diminish the fact Norin and Controsco allegedly committed punishable acts and should be held accountable for those actions, it should be done in a fair trial. Chile should also realize that most nations and human rights groups are going to criticize and admonish them for misuse of the law anyway, so allowing the actors to present their cases would not significantly harm them.
    It seems clear the the IACHR needs to examine Article 8 more closely and allow the last two plaintiffs to present their cases. While Chile may classify them as terrorists, this does not mean a non-governmental body should as well. Of course, as with most international bodies, the IACHR can only make recommendations and reports to the signatories and members, little incentive for Chile to respond.

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