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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On 60th Anniversary of Refugee Convention States Failing Refugees

”They stripped me naked and assaulted me. I begged them to kill me. Instead, they cut off my hands with machetes.”
- Amnesty International Interview, Sierra Leone, 1996

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The Dhehiba camp in Tunisia © AI

After World War II and the systematic murder of millions of Jews, Roma, LGBT and many others, nations and individuals recognized the need for safe refuge from persecution and genocide.

After years of discussion and negotiation, the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the UN Refugee Convention) and later the 1967 Protocol emerged and provided a framework for protection. Most importantly, it established that no one could be returned to a country in which her/his life or freedom would be at risk.

It also placed obligations on signatories requiring they share responsibility when people flee across borders, and provide those seeking refuge with access to housing, health care and livelihood.

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Crackdown on Refugees from Burma

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is reporting that the Bangladesh government has launched a crackdown against the Rohingya community around the Cox’s Bazar district (see map).  The site of the crackdown is a makeshift camp of refugees in Kutupalong that is not recognized by the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has limited access to the area.  From MSF’s press release:

More than 6,000 people have arrived at the makeshift camp since October—2,000 in January alone,” said MSF Head of Mission in Bangladesh Paul Critchley. “People are crowding into a crammed and unsanitary patch of ground with no infrastructure to support them. They are prevented from working to support themselves and are not permitted food aid. As the numbers swell and resources become increasingly scarce, we are extremely concerned about the deepening crisis.”

The Myanmar government (note that Amnesty International requires use of the UN-recognized name of the country widely known as Burma) refuses to acknowledge that the Rohingya are from Myanmar rendering them stateless.

MSF is asking that the UNHCR increase protections to these Rohingya seeking protection in Bangladesh.  At the moment, only 28,000 of the estimated 200,000 of the refugees in Bangladesh are recognized as refugees.  The result, in an already overcrowded and poor country, is that the Rohingya are vulnerable.  Human rights groups have been campaigning on the plight of the Rohingyas for a number of years, but Myanmar’s neighbors have grown impatient with the scale of the humanitarian need.  But, as MSF makes clear, the international community must support the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR to adopt measures to guarantee the unregistered Rohingya’s lasting dignity and well-being in Bangladesh.