Chile: Constitutional referendum gives hope to democracies

Martin Bernetti / AFP

Paris, 30 August 2022. The French Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) salute the exemplary democratic process that allowed the drafting of a new constitution for Chile. This draft will be submitted to 15 million Chilean voters by referendum on 4 September 2022.

If this new constitution is approved - the first in the world to be drafted with gender equality - it will guarantee a series of economic, social and cultural rights and recognise Chile as a plurinational, intercultural, regional and ecological state.

The 1980 constitution was an outdated legacy of the Pinochet military dictatorship, responsible for thousands of tortured and murdered citizens coupled with policies that deepened socio-economic inequalities. The text prevented, among other things, any state intervention to promote a fairer distribution of wealth and social rights. After the return to democracy in 1990, the presidency of Michelle Bachelet launched an encouraging citizen dialogue in 2015 through 8.000 local meetings.

In October 2019, Chileans - particularly youth and indigenous peoples - led a social uprising to protest against economic and gender inequalities and for better public services. They challenged the state model, enshrined in the 1980 constitution that hands over the provision of economic, social, and cultural rights to the market, demanding structural reforms that place social and human rights at the heart of state actions. However, these struggles have been violently repressed and the National Institute of Human Rights of Chile counted in March 2020 more than 1.500 victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments. At the end of this unprecedented repression since the return to democracy, the political parties represented in Parliament reached an "Agreement for Peace and the New Constitution" on 15 November 2019.
In September 2020, more than 78% of the electorate chose to draft a new constitution. 154 members were then elected in May 2021 in a Constituent Assembly with equal representation and 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples.

This assembly, through its debates and its work, resulted in a draft of 388 articles solidifying human rights in Chile. The constitutional project defines Chile as a: "Social and democratic state based on the rule of law. It is plurinational, intercultural, regional and ecological", promoting a model of shared development and solidarity that guarantees dignity, freedom, equality of human beings, secularism, the right to abortion and the rights to free education, public health, work and housing through social security. The project also provides for increased autonomy for indigenous territories, environmental rights and the fight against climate change.

This exemplary democratic process, which should turn the page on dictatorship if the new constitution is adopted, is a source of hope for all democracies in crisis.

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