Statement Before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Brazil and in Chile, May 27, 1976

Year Published
  • 2011
  • English
Remarks of Rev. J. Bryan Hehir
Associate Secretary for International Justice and Peace
United States Catholic Conference
To the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Washington, D. C.
May 27, 1976

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Commission:

This is the second time you have permitted me to appear before you during your meetings here in Washington. I wish to express my gratitude both for allowing these personal interventions and, more generally, for the unique and essential work that has been carried on by your commission in defense of human rights and dignity.

My appearance before you two years ago, April 15, 1974, was in connection with several particularly flagrant violations of human rights in Brazil. At that time we brought before you additional information on case #1769 (Brazil) involving Father Francois Jentel and others. The following month, the conviction of Father Jentel was reversed and he was expelled from the country after serving nearly one year in prison.

I believe that the efforts of your Commission were instrumental in securing his release and Father Jentel has personally asked me to express his gratitude to those who engaged in this work. Let me cite two subsequent developments in this case, however, which illustrate the enormous obstacles faced by your Commission in seeing a case through to its successful resolution.

  1. In case #1769 we had presented information concerning not only Father Jentel’s arrest but the arrests and torture of priests and laypersons working with him, including various actions taken against the bishop of the area, Dom Pedro Casaldaliga.

    In its responses to your Commission, the Government of Brazil consistently avoided responding to the more serious charges, repeating instead information already known and not at issue. In other instances it presented false or inaccurate information and in almost all cases so delayed its response as to make further clarification by the complainant most difficult.

  2. Secondly, although the principal in this case, Father Jentel, was released and put out of the country, and was later assured that his case was completely closed and that he was free to return to Brazil, he quickly learned this was not true. He returned to Brazil at the end of November 1975 and was arrested on December 12 leaving the house of Archbishop Aloisio Lorscheider in Fortaleza, and once again expelled from the country.
These facts illustrate, it seems to me, the continuing need to strengthen the authority of the Commission, to expedite the reporting procedures, and to secure from member governments a still greater commitment to respect the conclusions of the Commission.

I turn now to the issue at hand, the present condition of human rights in Chile, and the document presented by the Vicariate for Solidarity to the President of the Supreme Court at the beginning of the juridical year in March. As you know, the Vicariate is the new work of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santiago replacing the former ecumenical Peace Committee which was forced to close at the end of 1975.

Inaugurated on January 23, 1976 by the Cardinal Archbishop of Santiago, Raul Silva Henriquez, the Vicariate has as its task, among other things: to give juridical assistance to the people detained by the secret police; provide defense for those tried by Military Tribunals; and denounce before the Criminal Courts homicides, illegal detentions, and the disappearance of people. (These are made directly by the family members of the detained, dead, or disappeared person, but with legal help from lawyers of the Vicariate.)

The experience and information collected by the Churches throughout the country, and especially in Santiago, has enabled the Vicariate to accumulate abundant documentation regarding the violation of individual human rights, and with this background the lawyers of the Vicariate have been able to make serious studies which contrast what happens in practice with the laws that are supposed to protect human rights. This working-group of lawyers is the most qualified group to study the juridical situation in the country in relation to the laws decreed by the present government regarding individual personal rights.

On occasion of the opening of the juridical year, 1976 the Vicariate of Solidarity presented a petition to the Supreme Court, asking the High Court to exercise its prerogatives, and to make note of the failings and deficiencies of the laws. The statement, which was signed by the Auxiliary Bishop of Sangiago, Enrique Alvear, examines technically the deficient protection of human rights, and denounces, with official documentation given by the government itself and by the courts, numerous cases which recount the permanent violation of individual personal rights. This document denounces the inefficiencies of the system of legal recourse, and the false information presented by the Chilean government about detained people. Photocopies have been made of the official replies to writs of "habeas corpus", which are public knowledge.

The Supreme Court rejected each and every petition made by the Vicariate of Solidarity without giving any reason. As a consequence the Vicariate has exhausted every legal recourse contained in Chilean legislation designed to obtain modifications in the situation of human rights, and especially personal freedom.

The document of the Vicariate consists of an eight-part analysis of the pertinent legal issues followed by some 163 pages of annexes documenting the violations. I am leaving with you, in addition to a copy of the complete document, copies of a brief resume of the analytic presentation.

I urge this Commission to study the document carefully and give it the serious attention both which it deserves and which the Chilean authorities have so far refused.

In closing I must point out one more ominous fact. At least three of the lawyers involved in the preparation of this document, persons held in high esteem by the legal profession in Chile, have experienced arrest and detention. Two of them are now out of the country and the other, Hernan Montealegre, is still being held. This fact, no less than the serious legal matters addressed in the Vicariate’s document, underscores the urgency of this Commission’s task.

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