Often the quest to advance social justice causes social disorder. Consequently, the desire to restore order can provoke the degradation of social justice. Protestors and activists disrupt the flow of society to raise awareness of where society functions ineffectively. Law enforcement often forgoes due process and human rights, when the equilibrium of daily life is thrown off by mass demonstration.
In repressive regimes, government crackdowns warrant international condemnation. However, in countries with solid democratic credentials, we have more trust that law enforcement will protect basic human rights. Decisions taken by the courts are similarly given more credibility than dictatorial show trails.
But, what happens when democracies fail to respect citizen rights in responding to social movements? In countries with a long history of civil rights activism under representative forms of government, there exist many well established organizations that fight for the rights of citizens – most notably the ACLU in the US. Yet, in new relatively young democracies there are fewer such institutions.
Amid more than a year of mass protests against Chile’s exclusive educational system, volunteers have stepped up to monitor the actions of riot police. Dressed in blue helmets labeled DDHH (derechos humanos/human rights), a cadre of volunteers record police tactics that violate the rights of demonstrators.
Many detained by police during the protests have reported sexual humiliation, torture, and other acts of police brutality. Beyond teargas, rubber bullets, and high powered fire hoses with chemically infused water, protestors “reported having their heads forced into the toilet, guns pointed against their heads, being beaten unconscious, and a police officer pulling down his pants to show them his genitals.”
The work of objective monitors helps create at least some accountability for the actions of law enforcement. Armed with a camera and notepad, one volunteer commented, “[w]e don’t intervene, we don’t try to take detainees away from them, but we do let them know when they’re doing something illegal or irregular, that they can’t beat people up, and that we are watching and have their names and ranks. They pay attention.”
Monitors post updates via twitter and through their website. In some cases, evidence generated by observers has been used successfully in court. One lawyer submitted records to courts in February, when he represented a student who accused the police of torture while in detention.
Given, Chile’s history of activism against autocratic oppression under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, these monitors facilitate the consolidation of democracy, by protecting citizen rights and increasing governmental accountability.
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Tens of Thousands March in Chile for Better Schools
At it again this week.
30 August, 2012
SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of students and their supporters packed the streets of this capital on Tuesday for a march to demand improvements to Chile’s poorly funded public education system.
Organizers estimated the number of participants in Tuesday’s event at more than 150,000, while authorities cited a figure of around 50,000
Chilean students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times in 2011