Chile: Anti-terror law used against Mapuche activists

In late November 2011, Mapuche protesters in the southern region of Araucania once again clashed with Chilean police. They demonstrated against plans to build an airport on Mapuche land; police used tear gas against the demonstrators, who were blocking the highway.

Earlier in January, the Santiago Court of Appeals had rejected the Mapuche claim and ruled that the airport project could go ahead. The decision was criticized for not adequately taking into account the consultation requirements of the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169. The Chilean government has reportedly committed to holding roundtable talks and set aside US$ 40 million for local development.

This is the latest in the long running struggle between the Mapuche and the Chilean state.

In June 2011, four Mapuche prisoners being held in Victoria prison in southern Chile ended their 86-day hunger strike after Chile’s Supreme Court agreed to lower their sentences from between 20 and 25 years, to a maximum of 15 years. The four were charged with an October 2008 shotgun ambush on the police convoy of a public prosecutor, who lost a limb.

Roman Catholic Church mediators and human rights advocates pledged to convene a commission to review the use of Chile’s anti-terrorism legislation against indigenous activists.  

Mapuche demonstrations and hunger strikes have been an almost annual occurrence since 1984 when the state enacted the Anti-Terrorist Law No. 19.027 during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The law was aimed at curbing Mapuche protests over the loss of their lands and resources. Among other controversial features, the law allows for military trials and the use of anonymous witnesses who cannot be cross-examined by the defence.

During 2010, a total of 34 Mapuche prisoners staged a hunger strike at several facilities in south-central Chile in protest against the law. This ended after 82 days when the government agreed to amend the Anti-Terrorist Law, and to stop using military tribunals against Mapuche civilians.  

'We are going to work together in a process of dialogue, reflection and action to make an improvement in accord with international standards,' said Fernando Chomali, the bishop of Concepción who brokered the talks between the defendants and the government.

Nevertheless the controversial anti-terrorism legislation was used once again against the four prisoners charged in the 2008 convoy attack. The repeat use of the law was seen as a violation of the 2010 accord and considered reason enough to mount another hunger strike in 2011.

The underlying issue of Mapuche land rights is one which will certainly continue, since no Chilean government has ever fully recognized Mapuche territorial claims. MRG estimate that since the 19th century the Mapuches have lost 95 percent of their land and seen their territory shrink, from 10 million hectares in 1883, to about 500,000 today.

Maurice Bryan

Photo: A Mapuche man is arrested at a protest. Credit: Antitezo


For more information, look out for MRG's State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 report (published 28 June).

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Date: 16/06/2012




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012
Indigenous Peoples
Land Rights

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