16 March - 24 April 1998

Item 16: Rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities

Document presented by International Peace Bureau

Mr. Chairman,

We thank you for the opportunity of speaking before the Human Rights Commission today, and are pleased to greet you, the members of the Commission, and the non-governmental organisations here present.

The Mapuches are a minority within the Chilean State, whose rights this State in practice does not recognise. These include: our linguistic and cultural rights; our right to a livelihood, for we are deprived of our land; and even the right to physical integrity. Today, we are suffering brutal repression as in the worst years of the military dictatorship.

First: Just over 100 years ago, the Mapuche nation, spread across the present-day states of Argentina and Chile, possessed a vast territory which, on the Chilean side, stretched from the Bio-Bio River down to the South. This territory was recognised first by treaties with the Spanish Crown and then by a series of treaties and parliaments held with the newly established Republic of Chile. With the military defeat of the Mapuche people in 1883, the Chileans took possession of the Mapuche territory by conquest --territory which the Mapuche communities still claim as theirs today. Despite the loss of national sovereignty and annexation to the Republic of Chile, the Mapuche have by no means renounced their claims to possession of their land and resources.

Without the recovery of these lands, and the inalienable right of property over them, the survival of the Mapuche communities and of their culture is under threat. Deprived of their lands, the Mapuche communities suffer growing social instability, with the evident danger of outbreaks of violence, which could have unforeseeable consequences for the peace and stability of the Chilean State as a whole.

We demand, therefore, the recognition of the fundamental rights of the Mapuche people, as guaranteed by legal instruments both national and international, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, article 1.

Second: With regard to the situation of its indigenous population, Chile in theory made an important step forward with the passing of Law No. 19.253 in 1993. This law establishes norms for the protection, promotion and development of the indigenous population and recognises a number of basic rights, such as the condition of the Mapuche as a People. It guarantees the protection of ownership of land and water, and the introduction of multi-cultural and bilingual education; it prohibits manifest and malicious discrimination. By this law, the government must consult the indigenous peoples of Chile on all issues affecting them directly. In reality, however, this law is not implemented. Yet, with the return to democracy and to the rule of law in Chile, with the strengthening of its legal institutions and its ratification of international treaties in the field of human rights, Chile presents a normal and civilised face to the rest of the world. But, if we look at recent events in Chile, it becomes clear that the treatment of the Mapuche people has not improved since the days of Pinochet's dictatorial regime. Injustice, violation of human rights, usurpation of Mapuche lands, inhuman and humiliating treatment, discrimination, racism etc. are in Chile still very much the order of the day.

Between October 1997 and March 1998, 85 Mapuches, among them women and children, were detained in Temuco, Malleco, Arauco, Angol and Santiago. This was the result of the introduction of the Law of State Security and the Anti-terrorist law in 5 communes in the Mapuche region. The Chilean police, on the basis of these legal instruments, carried out an exaggerated military operation in the entire region. Together with anti-terrorist forces, and using military vehicles and helicopters, the police patrolled the area, entering homes, threatening the inhabitants. Detentions took place at any hour of day or night. According to the statement of one of the detained, he was held incommunicado for 7 days (whereas Chilean law stipulates 5 days), during which he suffered inhuman and degrading treatment.

In a confrontation between security guards of the logging company Arauco S.A. and Mapuche families from the Pichi Lonkollan and Pilin Mapu communities of the Lumaco sector of Malleco Province, who were trying to halt the exploitation of forestland traditionally theirs, 2 trucks were burnt -- incident which, in our view, could hardly constitute a "threat to the interior security of the state". The reaction of the Chilean state towards the Mapuche population in this case seems to us to be irresponsible and totally exaggerated.

Third Projects for the improvement of infrastructures, such as the building of new roads and dams, are being carried out without the prior consent of the communities concerned, in violation of the Indigenous Law No. 19.253 of 5. October 1993. Not only has the Chilean government not implemented this Indigenous Law, due, it says, to a "lack of economic resources" (at the very moment in which Chile is buying weapons worth hundreds of millions of dollars), but it has manifestly violated it. For example, the imminent construction of a series of hydroelectric power stations in the Bio-Bio river in the Mapuche-Pewenche region, without the consent of the communities affected, is in direct contradiction with Article 13 of the Indigenous Law, which provides that "Indigenous lands, as national interest demands, shall enjoy the protection of this law. They shall not be alienated, seized, nor acquired by limitation, except between communities or indigenous persons belonging to the same ethnic group".

A large number of indigenous communities are facing such situations, due to the implementation of a number of mega-projects such as the Coast Road, the Temuco By Pass, urban expansion, exploitation of forests, privatisation of coastal areas and their waters etc. All these projects, far from benefiting Chile's most needy, plunge them ever deeper into poverty, leading to enormous social and cultural problems within our people. We need hardly mention the disastrous environmental consequences of the above projects.

We should like to make it absolutely clear that the Mapuche people are not opposed to progress, but want fair, sustainable and harmonious development, with full respect of their rights and ancestral values, and a development process from which they are not absolutely excluded.

We believe that the recognition of cultural diversity in Chile will mark the beginning of a historic reparation which today the indigenous peoples are anxiously awaiting, and which sooner or later the Chilean State will have to consider. For only in this way will a solid base for coexistence with the original inhabitants of the country be created. Our demands are not of a violent nature, but are based on full respect of the Chilean legal order, which includes the norms of the common law which traditionally governed the Mapuche people, reserving for ourselves the right to self-determination, as the basis for the protection and development of the Mapuche in their ancestral territory.

We demand also the recognition of the Mapuche people within the Chilean Constitution and the ratification of ILO Convention 169 by Chile, as this is one of the few texts, if not the only text, which recognises the inalienable rights of indigenous peoples.

We thank you.

Reynaldo Mariqueo
International Coordinator
Mapuche Inter-regional Council

Luis Llanquilef
European Coordinator
Arauco and Tirua Coordination

Geneva, 30th March, 1998

Pueblo Mapuche

Royaume d'Araucanie et de Patagonie