The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, visited Chile from 14 to 16 April 2014 to give a lecture on the duty of the State to consult with indigenous peoples during a conference organized by the Universidad Diego Portales. He also made a keynote speech during a meeting of various business enterprises by Global Compact Chile on the "Relationship of Companies and Indigenous Peoples in the Field of Human Rights." While he was in Chile, the Special Rapporteur also met with several representatives of the State, as well as delegations of representatives of indigenous peoples, NGOs and academics. During the meeting, views on the key challenges for the protection of rights of indigenous peoples in Chile were exchanged.
Indigenous peoples in Chile
There are nine different indigenous groups in Chile. The largest one is Mapuche, followed by the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay, and the Quechua peoples. As the only country in Latin America, Chile’s constitution does not recognize the indigenous peoples. The indigenous groups face challenges especially in terms of territorial rights.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the Government of Chile on 13 September 2007.
Despite Chile’s constitution not recognizing the indigenous peoples, the Ministry of Social Development has convened an indigenous constitutional drafting process to gain the perspective of the indigenous peoples on the content of a new constitution.
Also, Law No. 19,253 of 1993 on indigenous promotion, protection, and development remains in effect, even though it does not meet the international law standard concerning the rights of indigenous peoples to land, territory, natural resources, participation, and political autonomy.
Indigenous peoples in Chile
There are 1,565,915 indigenous persons in Chile and nine different indigenous groups. The Mapuche represents 84 per cent of the indigenous population, while the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay, and the Quechua peoples together represent 15 per cent.
74 per cent of the total indigenous population live in urban zones, while the remaining 26 per cent live in rural zones.
According to the Ministry of Social Development, 30.8 per cent of the indigenous population live in poverty, while for the non-indigenous population, that figure is 19.9 per cent. The region of Araucanía, which concentrates the largest indigenous population, continues to be the country’s poorest region.
Main challenges for Chile’s indigenous peoples
A continuous struggle for the Mapuche peoples is their rights to the lands and territories, which legally and/or ancestrally belong to them. In the Region of the Araucanía and Los Ríos, the rights of the Mapuche people have been gravely threatened by the expansion of extractive, production, and infrastructure projects. The great majority of these initiatives belong to private corporations.
Although a new legislative bill raises questions on the part of indigenous peoples and has created the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP) and the National Protected Areas System (SNAP), it fails to recognize the contribution of indigenous peoples to biodiversity, does not protect indigenous rights against public and private conservation initiatives, nor recognizes or protect indigenous and community conservation initiatives.
Another challenge is the criminalization of Mapuche social protest by the state. Currently, there are a great number of court cases against Mapuche persons, accusing them of participating in criminal acts in connection with claims for their territorial rights. Some of these cases are being prosecuted under the Antiterrorist Act.
Legislative progress for Chile’s indigenous peoples
The executive branch has introduced bills for creation of a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, a National Indigenous Council, and nine Councils of Indigenous Peoples.
The National Indigenous Council might lead to an improved status for indigenous public policy, but does not in-and-of-itself ensure a policy consistent with the rights recognized for these peoples.
The Councils of Indigenous Peoples contemplate one Council for each people, with a total of 69 representatives elected by those peoples, which might constitute an avenue for representation of their interests vis-à-vis the state.
The bill for a National Council of Indigenous Peoples is a valuable initiative, which in all events must not violate the right of the indigenous peoples to constitute and define their own representative institutions according to ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
"We are a peaceful people. We don't like war. We don't want police and military on our land," said Erity Teave, an indigenous activist from the Chilean-administered Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. Teave, an indigenous activist who is currently visiting the United States, told IPS that her people were looking for urgent international action to protect them from what she described as "terrorism" by the authorities in Santiago.
While many are sceptical that the Chilean government will deliver on its promise of a shift in indigenous policy, the deadline is looming for the administration of Sebastián Piñera to live up to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendations with respect to imprisoned members of the Mapuche community. "The challenge for this year is preventing a situation where it is the courts that intervene, as a last resort, to try to solve the demands of both the indigenous communities and the owners of disputed lands" claimed by native groups, Jorge Contesse, director of the Human Rights Centre at the private Diego Portales University, told IPS. "The political authorities have to take a hand in the matter," the lawyer said.
A land dispute on Easter Island turned violent Friday (3 Dec) when riot police evicting islanders from their ancestral home were surrounded by rock-throwing protesters. About two dozen people were injured in a seven-hours-long confrontation. The clash began at 5 a.m. when officers moved in to evict 10 people from the home they had been occupying since ousting a government official from the property in September, Rapa Nui lawyer Maka Atan told The Associated Press.