Monday, November 02, 2009

Finding the disappeared in Chile

Human rights abuses are timeless. Urugayans recently voted not to rescind the 1986 amnesty, with the common argument of "looking to the future" rather than "focusing on the past." In Chile, the 1978 amnesty remains in place, though judges have found creative ways around it.

But trauma does not simply remain in the past. In Chile, former conscripts who were involved in torture and murder want to start talking.

Hundreds of former military draftees are making a provocative offer to Chile's government: They will reveal details of crimes committed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship — but only if their safety is guaranteed.

The draftees fear that if they reveal where the bodies are buried, they will face prosecution by the courts or retaliation by the superiors who ordered them decades ago to torture and kill political prisoners.

The information they once promised to carry to their graves has become both a heavy psychological burden and a bargaining chip. By offering confessions, the former draftees hope to improve their chances of securing benefits from pensions to psychological treatment.

"We were executors and witnesses of many brutalities and now we're willing to talk about them for our own personal redemption," said former soldier Fernando Mellado, who is organizing a Sunday gathering of draftees outside Chile's presidential palace.

These former soldiers know a lot, but this would involve giving them protection and benefits they otherwise might not receive. That is no easy decision.

In nearly two decades of democracy since then, less than 8 percent of the disappeared have been found, said Viviana Diaz of the Assembly of Family Members of the Disappeared Detainees.

Hundreds of recovered remains, some just bone fragments, have yet to be identified. Only those who buried the bodies know where other common graves lie.

You can claim to look forward, but when over 90% of the disappeared are still unfound, the past is always present.


Nell 4:45 PM  

Amnesty for full accounting was the deal offered to perpetrators testifying before South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Even so, relatively few did testify.

But the offer has a very different feel -- with undertones of blackmail -- coming from the perpetrators themselves.

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