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LATIN AMERICA

Chile’s judiciary asks for forgiveness over its role during the Pinochet dictatorship

Unprecedented statement comes days before 40th anniversary of bloody coup

Pinochet (second from left) seen nine days after the 1973 coup.
Pinochet (second from left) seen nine days after the 1973 coup.AP

In an unprecedented move, the largest judicial body in Chile on Wednesday issued a public apology for its actions during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the South American nation from 1973 to 1990.

In a statement, the National Association of Judiciary Magistrates – the country’s legal watchdog – asked victims of the military dictatorship to forgive the judiciary’s “wrongful omissions of its duties.”

"Without any ambiguity or confusion, the time has come to ask for the forgiveness of victims... and of Chilean society,” said the statement posted on the institution’s website.

Signed by the association’s president, Rodrigo Cerda, and six other members, the statement comes just days before the 40th anniversary of the bloody coup led by Pinochet that toppled President Salvador Allende.

Without any ambiguity or confusion, the time has come to ask for the forgiveness of victims"

The document states that the Chilean judiciary could have and should have done more to protect human rights during the ruthless dictatorship, which, according to officials figures, left an estimated 3,000 people dead and 1,000 others missing. The judges said that it was impossible for them to avoid the “historic responsibility” they should have assumed during this period.

“Our courts’ inadmissibility and rejections of thousands of complaints – many of which were rightly filed on behalf of compatriots whose fate was never determined – the systematic refusal to investigate criminal acts perpetrated by state agents, and reluctance to personally get involved in the actions taking place in detention centers and torture, no doubt contributed to the painful imbalance of human rights during this dark period,” the statement said.

Besides pleading for forgiveness, the association asked the country’s Supreme Court to also reflect on its own actions during Pinochet’s 17-year-old dictatorship.

After the statement was released, Hugo Dolmestch, spokesman for the Supreme Court, told CNN Chile that he wasn’t aware of any member of the top court apologizing for any of the rulings it had handed down.

While acknowledging that there existed a “pact of silence” among those who committed human rights violations, Dolmestch called on the public “to comprehend why these things occurred” and said there was an urgent need for reconciliation.

Supporters of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s conservative government and opposition parties have also publicly asked for forgiveness over the past several weeks as the anniversary approaches.

Former center-left President Michelle Bachelet, who is running for a second term in office this year, will take part next Monday at a ceremony dedicated to the victims of the dictatorship to be held at Chile’s Historical Memory Museum in Santiago. At the same time, the center-right candidate Evelyn Matthei will take part in another ceremony at La Moneda presidential palace.

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