“The decision recognises that it is illegal to criminalize the Mapuche quests for their ancestral land” explained Jimena Reyes, head of the FIDH Latin America Bureau and one of the legal counsels in the case. “The ruling opens the path for the conviction in other cases of criminalization of social protest throughout the continent, which is unfortunately widespread”, she added.
The Inter-American Court condemned the Chilean State partly because the sentences it issued against the Mapuche for their alleged crimes were based on an antiterrorism piece of legislation which violates the principle of legality and the right to the presumption of innocence.
The Inter-American Court also held that the sentences were based on stereotypes and prejudices, in violation of the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Additionally, the Court found that the trial in Chile violated due process requirements. All these elements combined demonstrate that these convictions were arbitrary and incompatible with the American Convention.
In the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, FIDH along with two other attorneys represented five of the eight Mapuche victims: the two Lonkos (Mapuche spiritual leaders) Ciriaco and Pichun, as well as José Huencunao, Jaime Marileo, and Patrico Marileo; all of whom were advocating to recover land belonging to their communities and who were convicted of “terrorist threat” and “terrorist arson” in 2002 and 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms.
Following the return of democracy in Chile, the Mapuche were confronted to the repeated denials of the Court to recognize their land titles. Investment projects in forest operations, in hydroelectric installations, and in roads were implemented without prior consultation and contributed to stripping the Mapuche of their land. This led them to organise public protests to defend their rights. As of 1992, authorities started to criminalise their protests. In particular in 2001, authorities started to selectively and discriminatorily apply the Anti-Terrorist Act against the Mapuche leaders and members. The aim was to weaken social protests and demonstrations for the recovery of ancestral lands.
“FIDH welcomes this momentous decision and expresses its concern over the extensive violations of economic, social, and cultural rights that affect communities in Latin America, in particular indigenous communities” said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.