A United Nations (UN) human rights report released Friday accused Chilean security forces of serious human rights violations against protesters over the past two months, including deaths, torture, sexual abuse and the use of excessive force.
The report was released by the UN Human Rights Office, which is headed by former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet — a domestic political rival of current President Sebastián Piñera.
The high commissioner's report, which drew push-back from Chilean officials, urged the government to allow its citizens to peacefully demonstrate without being physically harmed.
"There are reasonable grounds to believe that ... a high number of serious human rights violations have been committed," the report said. "The majority of those who have exercised the right to assembly during this period, have done so in a peaceful manner."
Unrest was sparked across Chile on October 18 when a student protest over a modest increase in subway fares turned into a much larger and broader movement with a long list of demands that largely have to do with the wide gap between the rich and ordinary Chileans.
Residents called for reforms to health care, education, the pension system and even the constitution, which dates back to 1980 and the military dictatorship.
The UN report coincided with the assertions of other organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the autonomous National Institute of Human Rights of Chile.
It highlighted the roughly 350 people left with eye or facial injuries caused by security forces firing shotguns at close proximity to demonstrators. Human rights officials said this proves that "less-lethal weapons" had been used "improperly and indiscriminately," contrary to international principles on minimizing the risk of injury.
Although most of the injuries were from pellets, others were caused by use of chemical irritants, in particular tear gas and, in some cases, the impact of tear gas cartridges, the report said.
The investigation also concluded that a large number of detainees were mistreated. Some involved sexual violence, simulated executions and threats that people would be made to disappear, which amount to torture, the High Commissioner's Office said.
"Many of these cases occurred in places with no surveillance cameras and with the perpetrators not being duly identified," the report said.
Women, girls and homosexuals have endured sexual violence, including forced nudity, and sexual violence took place against men and boys, the report said.
Pushing back, Chile's undersecretary of human rights for the Ministry of Justice, Lorena Recabarren, said the criticism is premature because it came as officials are still investigating the alleged acts and punishing perpetrators.
Police reported that they have launched 856 internal investigations, and they have fired eight riot police accused of "serious breach of protocols." Most cases are ongoing, more are ready for judgement and other officers have been acquitted, officials said.
"It's necessary to refine and clarify a number of statements and conclusions that, in the government's opinion, are not adequately represented or contain misinformation," Recabarren said.
She said the United Nations' report assumes the existence of human rights violations "before the ongoing investigations are concluded."
Further, regarding eye injuries, the government said the U.N. report didn't consider findings by the Ministry of Health that of 239 people injured, just 16 suffered total loss of vision in one eye, 75 have normal vision and 148 are under "evaluation."
The High Commissioner's office urged Chile to adopt measures such as supervising the activities of the security forces, ensuring that they use identification. Officials need to take steps ensuring accountability in relation to human rights violations and recognize these violations.
Chile's Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel reported this week that the riot police will change its name and headquarters and that many of its members will undergo retraining.