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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Chile's current constitution was approved in a September 1980 national plebiscite. It entered into force in March 1981. After General Augusto Pinochet's defeat in a 1988 plebiscite, the constitution was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the constitution, to create nine appointed or "institutional" senators, and to diminish the role of the National Security Council by equalizing the number of civilian and military members--four members each. Many among Chile's political class consider these and other provisions as "authoritarian enclaves" of the constitution and have begun to press for reform.

Chile's bicameral Congress has a 49-seat Senate--38 elected, 9 appointed, 2 for life--and a 120-member Chamber of Deputies. Deputies are elected every 4 years. Senators serve for 8 years with staggered terms. The Congress is located in the port city of Valparaiso, about 140 kilometers (84 mi.) west of the capital, Santiago.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments (all links in Spanish)

Although the Republic of Chile's founders drew on the example of the United States in designing the institutions of government, they drew on Roman law and Spanish and French traditions, particularly the Napoleonic Code, in designing the country's judicial system. Chile's ordinary courts consist of the Supreme Court, the appellate courts (cortes de apelacin), major claims courts, and various local courts (juzgados de letras). There is also a series of special courts, such as the juvenile courts, labor courts, and military courts in time of peace. The local courts consist of one or more tribunals specifically assigned to each of the country's communes, Chile's smallest administrative units. In larger jurisdictions, the local courts may specialize in criminal cases or civil cases, as defined by law.

Chile has sixteen appellate courts, each with jurisdiction over one or more provinces. The majority of the courts have four members, although the two largest courts have thirteen members, and Santiago's Appellate Court (Corte de Apelacin) has twenty-five. The Supreme Court consists of seventeen members, who select a president from their number for a three-year term. The Supreme Court carries out its functions with separate chambers consisting of at least five judges each, presided over by the most senior member or the president of the court.

Members and prosecutors of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president of the republic, who selects them from a slate of five persons proposed by the court itself. At least two must be senior judges on an appellate court. The others can include candidates from outside the judicial system. The justices and prosecutors of each appellate court are also appointed by the president from a slate of three candidates submitted by the Supreme Court, only one of whom can be from outside the judicial system. In order to be appointed, ordinary judges at the local level are appointed by the president from a slate of three persons submitted by a court of appeals. They must be lawyers, must be at least twenty-five years old, and must have judicial experience. Ministers of the appeals courts must be at least thirty-two years old, and Supreme Court ministers must be at least thirty-six years old, with a specified number of years of judicial or legal experience. Judges serve for life and cannot be removed except for inappropriate behavior.

Source: Library of Congress

Human Rights

The Chilean Government generally respected its citizens' human rights in 2001; however, problems remained in some areas. The most serious problems continued to be excessive use of force and mistreatment by police forces, and physical abuse in jails and prisons. Prisons are often overcrowded and antiquated. Detainees often are not advised promptly of charges against them nor granted a timely hearing before a judge. The authorities occasionally used force against protesters. Discrimination and violence against women and children continue to be problems. Indigenous people remain marginalized. A new labor code was introduced which is expected to reduce limitations on such fundamental worker rights as the right to organize and bargain collectively. Child labor is a problem in the informal economy.

During the year, the Government, primarily the judiciary, took significant steps to allow for the investigation of human rights abuses committed during the former military government and to bring those accountable in certain cases to justice. The bulk of the human rights abuses under the military regime occurred between 1973 and 1978, although a number took place after this period. In January the Defense Ministry-sponsored Human Rights Roundtable Dialog, including members of the armed services, religious groups, and human rights leaders, provided some information on the manner of death and fate of 200 persons who disappeared while in official custody during the Pinochet regime; however, military authorities were unwilling or unable to provide a full accounting for the fate of many of the over 3,000 persons who were killed and disappeared. On July 10, the Santiago Court of Appeals ruled that former president Pinochet was mentally unfit to stand trial, and temporarily suspended all legal proceedings in the Caravan of Death case against him pending an improvement in his condition. The substance of the ruling cannot be challenged, although an appeal based on what could be characterized as procedural grounds was pending before the Supreme Court at year's end.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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