During the 30-year period covered in this chapter, the political, social, and economic factors that shape the effectiveness of institutions, laws, regulations, and policies that influence torture and its prevention were subject to dramatic changes, as well as continuities, in Chile. During the period of the dictatorship (1973–90) severe torture was used systematically to punish and intimidate opponents. Following the transition to democracy, torture was no longer practised as a systematic government policy. But torture has not been eradicated. Groups including prisoners and other detainees, members of indigenous Mapuche communities involved in land conflicts, and social protesters remain vulnerable to torture.
Significant progress in preventing torture can be detected in state institutions and in the judicial system, particularly following the reform of the criminal justice system in 2000. Legal reforms in the last decade have strengthened the legal protection of detainees. These signal that changes in law and institutions can reduce the incidence of torture. This is particularly important when considering the impact that such reforms can have on key institutional actors. Moreover, the emergence of large-scale student protests and youth mobilization, and the willingness of parts of state institutions to challenge abusive institutional practices, indicate that social attitudes may be changing. Finally, the creation of the National Institute of Human Rights (NIHR) in 2010 has played an important role.
Torture continues to occur, however. These continuities can in part be explained by the legacies of the dictatorship and the political bargains of the transitional period. The issue of torture has been neglected in the transitional justice policies adopted by successive Chilean governments, and persists thanks to a lack of political leadership and mobilization, the presence of institutional enclaves, and authoritarian attitudes in Chilean society. Successive democratic governments have not prioritized prosecution and punishment for torture, and the criminal justice system lacks adequate legal instruments to deal with torture offences.