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Chile passes new security reforms
April 11, 2023
Chileans are increasingly concerned about public security, forcing the issue to the center of the Boric administration’s agenda. After police officer Daniel Palma was killed last week, the third member of Chilean security forces killed in a month, citizens gathered around the country to support the Carabineros and demand security policies from the government. In a show of unity, President Gabriel Boric and former presidents Sebastián Piñera, Michelle Bachelet and Ricardo Lagos attended Palma’s funereal together.
Subsequently, Boric allocated $1.5 billion to fight crime. signed off on four new laws that the government says will help fight organized crime, drug trafficking and crime. Interior Minister Carolina Tohá announced that the 30 Chilean municipalities with highest crime rates will be intervened.
“When it comes to fighting crime in the Chilean state, there are no rifts... There is no government and opposition, there is no left or right, there are no old people or young people. We are all united in this crusade,” Boric said last week. According to a regional survey published at the end of February by the Gallup consultancy, 71% of Chileans believe that crime had skyrocketed in the previous four months.
One of the new laws signed by Boric last week, passed by lawmakers in a special rushed session in March, grants police officers more powers for self defense and toughens sentencing for crimes against them.
The bill, named after two police officers killed earlier this year, was supported by Chile’s traditional left and right parties, but the self defense clause was rejected by a large part of Boric’s coalition.
Human rights organizations and the United Nations have been critical of the reforms, particularly in the aftermath of human rights violations committed by security forces in response to the massive protests of 2019.
The United Nations warned Chile that the new law would reduce accountability and make access to justice difficult for victims of possible abuses, as well as favor impunity. The UN is also concerned about the introduction of a "subjective criterion" for self-defense, which could lead to the use of lethal weapons in contexts such as protests.
Amnesty International also warned that the reforms authorize “the disproportionate use of force,” and “the new grounds for legitimate defense may limit the exercise of judicial guarantees for victims of human rights violations.”
More than a hundred criminal law and criminology professionals also expressed their objections through a letter, in which they reported the risk of increasing confusion in the use of police force and affecting the rights of individuals and the responsibility in the exercise of public function.
Other measures on the government agenda include creating a Ministry of Security, granting municipalities greater faculties to fight crime, and changing parole conditions.
Chileans’ interest in the new constitutional process is waning — the most recent Criteria poll found that 31 percent of respondents are interested, down from 60% in 2021. (ADN)
The Expert Commission approved a general framework for the new constitution, last week. The 14 chapters were prepared by four subcommittees and received unanimous support from the 24 commissioners. (CNN Chile)
The norms approved include the right to choose health insurance, private water rights, and a 5% floor for political parties to obtain seats in Congress. However, the general chapters will now return to subcommissions and will be subject to amendments. (CNN Chile)
El País interviews Verónica Undurraga Valdés, head of the Expert Commission, who said: “The new Chilean Constitution should include the desire for transformation, how to improve the lives of Chilean men and women, but without installing too many uncertainties towards the future.”
A group of 12 former health ministers — from across the political spectrum — signed a letter calling for the new constitution to recognize the right to health as a fundamental human right. (Cooperativa)
The Expert Commission rejected a proposal from the political right to include a special chapter for the Armed Forces in the proposed constitution. (Prensa Latina)