Interview #HumanRights75 with Chiguayante (Chile): contributing to peace for the prevention of human rights violations 50 years after the coup d'état

As part of the "Human Rights 75" initiative to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, the Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights (UCLG-CISDPDH) interviews the Human Rights Office of Chiguayante (Chile) about its local efforts to promote human rights for prevention and peace, the July thematic spotlight defined by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

This year is even more special for this city of 86,000 inhabitants located in eastern Chile: in addition to joining the international commemoration, they are also commemorating the 50 years of dictator Pinochet's coup d'état (11 September 1973) with a series of activities throughout 2023. (11 September 1973) with a series of activities throughout 2023. Awareness-raising campaigns with secondary school students, tributes on the International Day of the Detained and Disappeared and theatre plays to promote the gender perspective are some of the activities you can find in this calendar.

1. Why promote human rights for prevention and peace in your city? 

Although in legal terms1 it is the State's responsibility to guarantee human rights to the population without distinction or discrimination of any kind, the promotion of human rights is only possible through the articulation of the State with the municipalities2 to materialise them in concrete actions. 

The coup d'état perpetrated 50 years ago by the Armed Forces, with the support of civilians, plunged us into the darkness of a 17-year dictatorship that systematically violated the human rights of the population in our country in the cruellest ways. This milestone moves us and, from the democratic awareness that a better future without violence is possible, we assume all the challenges and pending debts that we as a State and society have for those who suffered violence, repression, death and disappearance of their families and loved ones, torture and political imprisonment.

In the area of public safety and prevention, we are promoting a cross-cutting policy in all the actions of the Municipality of Chiguayante. The objective is to solve the problems of fear, violence and crime, through the installation of a preventive approach in an intersectoral manner, including public-private partnerships, and at the various levels of the State.

To prevent crime and promote peace, it is necessary to apply a human rights approach in the public policies and programmes of our commune. In this sense, we take into account the principles of: responsibility and accountability; universality; non-discrimination and equity; the indivisibility of rights and participatory processes in decision-making.

Likewise, in the Municipality of Chiguayante we put a social inclusion perspective at the centre by paying special attention to sectors of the population that are in vulnerable conditions in the commune, such as the elderly, women and people with disabilities. These sectors often do not have the necessary resources to make their rights effective, so our effort to promote human rights involves providing information, raising awareness and generating procedures for equal access to the entire population.

2. What initiatives does Chiguayante support to promote prevention and peace?

In terms of prevention, the Municipality of Chiguayante seeks to promote an environment that allows the community to develop in all areas without fear, by having the necessary security to exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities in democracy and participation. In this sense, we focus on the most vulnerable social groups and on the different life cycles in order to achieve equity. 

Our work with children and adolescents focuses on the prevention of alcohol and drug consumption and on the violation of rights and violence. With women we work on prevention of domestic violence, psycho-socio-legal support, domestic violence and support in empowerment and financial independence, among others. We work with older people in a Day Centre, where we seek to promote and strengthen the autonomy and independence of this group by contributing to delaying the loss of their functionality and keeping them in their family and social environment. Through regular assistance, socio-health and biopsychosocial support services are offered on a temporary basis. In the case of people with reduced mobility, in order to favour their inclusion, we have generated actions to implement an inclusive local development strategy, and we work to improve accessibility on public roads.

In universal terms, we also highlight our work to recover public spaces to provide conditions of dignity and promote community life. This action is complemented by a wide range of sports and cultural workshops that mobilise the community and encourage the good use of public spaces.

In terms of security and peace, we have placed citizenship and the protection of the human person at the centre of our protection efforts. 

In this way, we carry out security patrols with an eminently preventive role, supporting citizens and territorial and functional organisations. At the same time, we encourage co-responsibility and democratic participation in security matters, while strengthening the organisation and social control of neighbourhoods with initiatives such as community alarms or the development of projects based on the needs of the territories.

Our approach to promoting citizen participation and transparency involves bringing institutions closer to the territories and gathering information from their inhabitants, which we do through the Community Public Safety Councils. This strategy allows for the accountability of duty bearers and the active participation of rights holders.

All this contributes to the inhabitants of Chiguayante being able to develop their life projects in peace and free from fear in order to exercise their rights and freedoms and fulfil their responsibilities, in democracy and participation.

3. What kind of international cooperation would you aspire to in order to better promote prevention and peace?

We aspire to work with the Cure Violence Organisation, which works with the "Cure Violence" model, which treats violence as an epidemic process that can be stopped using the same health strategies used to fight epidemics. This programme was originally developed in Chicago (United States) in the late 1990s, where it succeeded in reducing homicides by up to 24%. 

The model has been replicated in other cities across the country, and is now beginning to spread to countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Mexico and Honduras. Addressing violence as an essentially health problem is useful because it is based on scientific foundations and brings together knowledge from physiology, biology, neuroscience, psychology and sociology. This scientific understanding of violence shows that, like contagious diseases, violence is concentrated and spreads geographically (Zeoli et al., 2012; Cohen and Tita, 1999).

This theory of change relies on people who are trusted members of the communities they serve, carefully selected and trained to interrupt transmission, using a three-pronged strategy:

1. Detect and interrupt all transmissions.
2. Determine who might be the next person to transmit.
3. Review the potential for transmission (measured by people's expectation of violence around the potential transmitter).

Cure Violence is one of the few programmes that has proven effective in preventing the spread of major social impact crime such as homicide in vulnerable neighbourhoods. Based on the public health model of combating violence, it works with gangs to seek peaceful conflict resolution among at-risk youth. Moreover, it seeks real changes in behaviour and norms in the community.

This action aims to provide a response to the construction of a right to human security from a progressive local perspective.

1. Article 5 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile provides that: "The exercise of sovereignty recognises as a limitation the respect for the essential rights that emanate from human nature. It is the duty of the organs of the State to respect and promote such rights". 
Given that people are holders of these rights and can demand their fulfilment from the State, the State must have mechanisms that allow for their enforceability, and that also allow for the protection and restitution of rights in cases of violation or non-fulfilment.

2. Article 1 of Organic Constitutional Law N°18.575 of the General Bases of the State Administration states that: "The State Administration shall be constituted, among other bodies, by the Municipalities". As the Municipalities are organs of the State Administration, they have the obligation to respect and promote such rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as by the international treaties ratified by Chile and which are in force.
Article 3 of the Organic Constitutional Law of Municipalities No. 18.695 states that: "The purpose of the Municipality is to promote community development". Likewise, Article 4 of the same legal body has established that: "Municipalities may exercise functions such as education, culture, social assistance, promoting equal opportunities between men and women, among others".
In order to fulfil this task, by Mayor's Decree N°921 of 29 July 2020, the Municipality of Chiguayante created the Office of Human Rights and Community under the Directorate of Public Safety, Emergency and Civil Protection. Since that date, it has been working on activities to disseminate, promote and defend human rights for the residents of the Chiguayante commune.