Life Under Pinochet: ‘I Remember Being Shown Some Very Severe Signs of Torture’

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In advance of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30th, we have the following feature on Augusto Pinochet’s regime.

Roger Plant joined Amnesty International in 1972 to cover the organization’s work on Latin America. A few months after Pinochet took power by force, he went to Chile to document the arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances. The result was a groundbreaking report that helped shine a light on the reality of life in the Latin-American country.

As a young researcher, Roger Plant had only been working for Amnesty International for less than a year when Augusto Pinochet launched his coup d’état in 1973. With his feet barely under the desk, it was a baptism of fire – a seminal moment that would eventually define his career.

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Beatriz: Condemned to Die at 22 by El Salvador?

Women’s human rights activists gather in El Salvador to demand Beatriz is granted the life-saving treatment she needs (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Women’s human rights activists gather in El Salvador to demand Beatriz is granted the life-saving treatment she needs (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

Beatriz’s life is literally in the hands of the Salvadoran government. Demand that they immediately grant her the life-saving medical treatment she needs - before it’s too late.

About Beatriz’s Case

As you may have read recently on this blog, Beatriz from El Salvador is 4.5 months pregnant and suffers from lupus and other medical conditions, including kidney disease related to lupus. She also suffered serious complications during her previous pregnancy, resulting in her being deemed at high-risk of maternal mortality should this pregnancy progress. Three scans of her fetus have confirmed it is anencephalic (lacking a large part of the brain and skull). Almost all babies with anencephaly die before birth or within a few hours or days after.

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How Do You Defeat a Dictator When He Gets to Write the Rules?

NO_ecard_AmnestyI didn’t think it was possible. As a student at Rutgers in 1988, I sarcastically asked my friends, “Who do you think is going to win the referendum in Chile? Pinochet or Pinochet?”

Following his bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government in 1973, Pinochet murdered thousands of dissidents and outlawed opposition parties. Like many dictators, he legitimated his rule by holding a plebiscite on a “constitution” that gave him unchecked power in 1980. He was able to do so, of course, because the climate of fear and impunity guaranteed his victory.

Facing growing international pressure to step down, General Pinochet tried to pull this same trick again in 1988, by offering a pseudo-election in which Chileans could vote to either let Pinochet remain in office for another eight years or hold a presidential election the following year. Given that he was writing the rules again, how could human rights activists and other opposition groups possibly win? It seemed hopeless.

But it wasn’t! No!, an Oscar-nominated film, tells the story of the brave and creative Chileans who helped their fellow citizens stand up and say, “NO!” to repression. This movie opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 15. You can find a list of theatres and dates for other cities by clicking here.

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Repression Goes Global: Syrians in US Targeted By Syrian Embassies

Syrian Embassy in London

Syrian Embassy in London

While the United Nations Security Council keeps bickering and remains inactive, Syrian authorities go global with their repression of free speech and assembly.

By now it’s well documented by both NGOs and the United Nations that crimes committed by Syrian security forces against peaceful protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. Since mid-March, more than 2,200 people are reported to have been killed and thousands of others have been arrested.

However, now Syrian authorities are taking it to the next level. In more than four years of working on international human rights crises, I have never seen a foreign government systematically targeting peaceful protesters globally, which is exactly what the Syrian government is doing.

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Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.

By Kalaya’an Mendoza, Field Organizer for Amnesty Western Region

On July 15th a group of activists from Amnesty International USA and Survivors of Torture International held a protest on board the Chilean vessel “La Esmeralda” as it docked in San Diego Harbor.

Activist Hannah Bogen in front of La Esmeralda in San Diego Harbor.

In 1973, after former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet seized power in a military coup, the ship served as an interrogation center for political prisoners. Survivors described torture that included beatings, electric shocks and sexual assault.

Currently, the Esmeralda is traveling around the Americas acting as a roving ambassador for Chile on a mission of “goodwill.” The crew invited happy families, wide-eyed tourists and, unbeknownst to them, a small group of human rights activists ready to unfurl signs on board that read: “Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.”

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Easter Island: Eyes on Chilean Police

For two weeks now, unarmed indigenous activists in Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – have occupied public (read Chilean) property, claiming ancestral rights to a land that has seen colonization from Peruvian slave traders to French missionaries to the island’s conversion to a sheep farm by a Scottish-owned Chilean company until 1953. As a result, the Rapanui people have been forced to what is now the only inhabitance on the island: Hanga Roa.

When I was in Hanga Roa in May 2010, I spotted a building with a hand-made sign: Rapa Nui Parliament. Outside the physically unassuming building I saw few visibly austere voices for independence for this tiny South Pacific island controlled by Chile. But media reports suggest otherwise:

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