Torture at the police station: Complaints against police officials for torture, illegitimate constraints, unnecessary violence and other similar crimes

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Chile

Organisation: www.24Horas.cl

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 9 Apr 2019

Credit: María Paz Fernández, Guillermo Acosta.

Project description:

Tortura en la Comisaría is a report that reveals violent practices of the Chilean police against citizens in contexts of detention or demonstrations today. Between 2011 and 2019, behaviors similar to those used in the military dictatorship of 1973, directed by Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, and which were supposed to be extinguished are revealed. However, they were in a dark and denied world that was only known to victims and perpetrators. A month after the report was published, complaints about human rights violations became massive, as a result of a social crisis. The background of the behaviors were already on the

Impact reached:

The project had an important impact for the documentation and updating of Human Rights known by the citizens in the decade from 2000 to 2020; until then the concepts of torture and institutional violence were related to the dictatorial period in Chile between 1973 and 1989 directed by Augusto Pinochet; but they were not thought of as something still happening today.

Without knowing what was simmering in the social environment, the work was published a month before a social crisis in Chile, in which there have been massive violations of Human Rights according to international reports by Human Right Watch, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International; mostly by Carabineros de Chile according to the complainants.

Through databases of legal actions between 2011 and 2019, testimonies of assaulted persons, interviews with experts and police documents, it was possible to reconstruct what was happening in prison cells and arrests just before the crisis, violent behavior against citizens that was also being more denounced in recent years and was unknown in public opinion.

The report undoubtedly shows that violent practices were integrated among police officers long before the social crisis and that they are not conditioned by stress levels in the institution, nor as isolated cases.
It was possible to identify behaviors defined as methods of torture by the Istanbul Protocol, national laws and global agreements.

Techniques/technologies used:

To reconstruct torture situations we worked with an historical database of the National Institute of Human Rights with complaints and legal actions. We also work with the qualitative descriptions of each of them.

After clearing the data that corresponded to complaints against police personnel, we added the variables of types of torture defined by the Istanbul Protocol and separated the complaints by years and types of torture. Thanks to this crossing of data, we identified patterns of behavior in the police that were repeated in situations so that they seemed learned and not isolated. All of this, we made it using Microsoft Excel. 

To review the trend of occurrence of violent events, we developed tables and graphs with Infogram to have analytical visualizations that allowed us to decide where to follow the report.

By identifying the types of torture employed and the frequency of these, we select the most repeated and contrast with reality through sources that will direct us to the victims; people willing to talk despite fear.

Once having the testimonies, we contrast the cases with the medical records of each and the evaluation applied to them of the same Istanbul Protocol as a scientific tool that will verify the words of the victims.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult part of the project was to identify patterns of behavior through the qualitative database and categorize it to systematize into a quantitative input: above all, to be able to affirm that it was not isolated or different situations between them.

Beyond the human empathy and pain observed, it was also difficult to work the data by doubting them, despite the compassion that the cases generated for us.

Finally, the delicacy that we had to learn through texts and experts about Human Rights and vulnerabilities issues was difficult; from thinking the language of the interviews attached to a human rights perspective as to the presentation of the final product.

What can others learn from this project?

I think that the most valuable part of this work was to systematically quantify the types of repeated behaviors and contrast them with testimonies of flesh and blood.

Also, i think one of the things this report does is going beyond the individual story and gather information to check if there is a pattern behind one or two complaints. Being able to see the “full picture” let us get ahead of the massive complaints of human rights violations that ocurred in the months after the release of this report.

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