(Sept. 28, 2005) President Ricardo Lagos met with the Assembly of Human Rights on Monday announcing that human rights violators would not be eligible for amnesty. The move was greeted with enthusiasm by the Assembly after waiting two years for an audience with the president and a recent series of set backs on the human rights front.

President Lagos drew sharp criticism on Sept 9 after he initially gave his support for a senate proposal to reduce the sentences of Pinochet-era human rights violators who have already spent 10 years in prison (ST. Sept 9). The initiative was brought to the floor by Hernán Larraín, senator for the right wing Independent Democratic Union Party (UDI).

Lagos’ statement was all the more startling coming so soon after he pardoned Manuel Contreras Donaire, a jailed military official involved in the 1982 murder of former trade union leader Tucapel Jiménez. However, the Human Rights assembly was very pleased that the president decided to change his position on the amnesty issue.

Jorge Saez is the Assembly Representative for the Group of Ex-Political Prisoners in Chile. He agreed to an interview with the Santiago Times on Wednesday. Saez spent two years in prison between 1974 and 1976. After being released from prison, he fled the Chile and lived in Germany until three days before the 1988 plebiscite that forced former military dictator Augusto Pinochet to step down as the ruler of Chile.

Saez attended the meeting with Lagos on Monday and, while pleased with the results, he was left with mixed feelings about the issue.

“Lagos agreed that he wouldn’t pardon anymore people while he is in office,” said Saez, “he steps down in March.”

“You see,” he told me, “Every Concertación government since the country transitioned to democracy has had a plan to bring closure to the issue of human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship. We have succeeded by not letting these laws get passed.”

In this sense, the assembly meeting with Lagos was a success, but the issues surrounding what happened to thousands of people disappeared during the 17 years of the military rule still remain. Saez believes that until the real truth about the fate of those disappeared is known, the country will not be able to heal.

“How can we reconcile, if we don’t even know what happened?”

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