Police use excessive force against Chilean student protests

Peaceful Assembly

The Chilean student movement, with the leadership of the Confederation of Chilean Students (CONFECH), has organised multiple demonstrations against government proposals for higher education reforms in 2016, as in previous years. Student groups have rejected the proposed reforms as inadequate and insufficient. Some demonstrations have seen violent clashes with police forces, but the student movement has blamed outsiders for instigating violence.

Protests on 4 August 2016 culminated in fierce clashes with police in the cities of Concepcion, Santiago and Valparaiso. The Mayor of the metropolitan area of Santiago claimed that the incidents occurred because CONFECH failed to fulfil its commitments on security. Additionally, the Mayor stated that the banning of weekday marches on Alameda Avenue, in the centre of Santiago, is being considered. Student representatives responded that they had complied with all security measures, and claimed government forces were responsible for the violence, by using authoritarian practices and procedures during protests.

The excessive use of force by the police against demonstrations in Chile is an issue of international concern. The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, expressed concern at the use of preventive identity checks in the context of demonstrations. Mr Kiai called on the Chilean authorities to align pending legislation on identity checks with international human rights standards.


From 31 May to 4 June 2016, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, conducted an official visit to Chile to evaluate the situation of the right to freedom of expression. During the mission, Mr Lanza met government officials, journalists, representatives of media outlets and civil society organisations, academics, students and leaders of indigenous peoples. His preliminary report states that:

Chile still has some laws and practices that continue to negatively affect the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and the right to access to information in the country. They can be understood as the legacy of past authoritarian doctrines and the transition process, which no longer hold meaning in the current environment of democratic development.

During the visit, several civil society organisations met with Mr Lanza to denounce current restrictions on the freedom of expression. The Freedom of Expression Programme of the Communication Institute at the University of Chile submitted a report that included documentation of instances of denial of access to public information. Concerns were also expressed about the concentration of media ownership for digital television and obstacles to the development of community television.


On 9 May 2016, the Chilean Constitutional Court judged as unconstitutional the 'trade unions titularity' provisions, one of the main aspects of the Labour Reform proposed by the government. The principle of trade unions titularity implies that unions will be the main representatives allowed to participate in negotiations with private companies on workers' rights and conditions. The government's objective with the reform was to put an end to practices inherited from the period of military dictatorship, which enable other groups to take part in negotiations, thereby undermining the role of trade unions. The Constitutional Court, however, concluded that the proposal was a violation of the right to association.

The Court's judgement was met with mixed responses. While the Workers' Central Union (CUT) and the Chilean government strongly criticised the decision, it was welcomed by the Commerce and Production Confederation (CPC), which represents corporations and business associations.