(Adds government statement)
SANTIAGO, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Chile should investigate allegations that top commanders of the country’s police force played a role in human rights violations committed during protests last year in the South American nation, Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday.
The report, issued just days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the protests, concluded that the violations occurred because commanders did not take all necessary measures to prevent them.
The administration of center-right Sebastian Pinera has denied that police condoned the excessive use of force. Pinera officials have said repeatedly that individual cases of abuse would be properly investigated and prosecuted.
Chile’s ministry of justice and human rights responded in a statement that the police had no “premeditated or generalized practice or policy of use of force with the purpose or intention of punishing protesters.”
It added the scope of the report was limited and that the government was already promoting police reform.
The protests, which extended through early 2020, left more than 30 dead, thousands detained, and involved widespread looting and rioting that wrought billions of dollars in damages to Chile´s economy. Millions of Chileans took to the streets to demonstrate against inequality.
“Those in strategic command of the national police allowed acts of torture and ill-treatment to be committed against demonstrators because they considered them to be a necessary evil in order to disperse the crowds at all costs,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
Guevara-Rosas said top brass had facilitated the abuses through either “tacit orders or deliberate omissions.”
The group said it had documented cases of excessive use of police force through Nov. 30 2019, but the report noted that abuses continued through March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic struck Chile and drowned out most protests.
Protests have begun anew in Santiago in recent days ahead of the Oct. 18 anniversary of the 2019 protests.
Early this month, new tension between police and demonstrators broke out after a teenage boy fell from a bridge into a river during clashes with security forces. Protesters have alleged security forces were to blame. The case is under investigation. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Additional reporting by Natalia Ramos; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)