No obstante que el Centro de Investigación y Defensa SUR fue constituido legalmente el 15 de abril del 2011, el equipo de trabajo que lo compone data de principios del año 2010 y sus integrantes cuentan con experiencia y trabajo previo en la defensa de Derechos Humanos desde principios del 2000, participando en procesos emblemáticos de defensa de éstos.

Desde entonces se ha trabajado de forma autónoma y autogestionada en la protección de los Derechos Humanos de ciudadanos/as mapuche y no mapuche que habitan el sur de Chile, los/as que han sido acusados de delitos asociados a la protesta social, en que incluso se han invocados leyes de excepción (Ley Nº 18.314 Sobre Conductas Terroristas y ley Nº 19.927 de Seguridad Interior del estado) por parte del Ministerio Público y cuya invocación han sido amparadas por otras instituciones del Estado.

En el mismo sentido se han patrocinado causas en las que interviene la Justicia Militar en el procesamiento de civiles, y causas en contra de agentes del Estado por la vulneración del Derecho a la integridad física y psíquica de personas indígenas y no indígenas a través del ejercicio de tortura, tratos crueles, inhumanos y degradantes.

The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and south-western Argentina. They constitute a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who share a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage. The Mapuche make up 4.6% of the Chilean population.

Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent from both Inca and Spanish rule until the Chilean Occupation of Araucanía and the Argentine Conquest of the Desert in late 19th century. The Chilean State interned a significant percentage of the Mapuche, banned Mapudungun (the native language) and destroyed the Mapuche herding, agricultural and trading economies, while also looting Mapuche property. The government created a system of reserves called ‘reducciones’ along similar lines to North American reservation systems. Subsequent generations of Mapuche have lived in extreme poverty as a result of having been conquered and having lost their traditional lands.

The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture and their relationship to the land is paramount to their culture, society and beliefs. The name Mapuche means people of the land.

The Chilean government has in some ways tried to redress some of the inequities of the past. In 1993, the National Congress passed Law No. 19 253 (Indigenous Law) which officially recognized the Mapuche people and seven other ethnic minorities, as well as the Mapudungun language and culture. Mapundungun is now included in the curriculum of elementary schools around Temuco.

Background of the current situation: The recent conflict began to emerge in the 1990s after the return to democracy, when some indigenous communities (80% of which are Mapuche) began demanding that certain lands which were now property of logging and farming companies be returned to them. Several Mapuche organizations are now also demanding the right of self-recognition as indigenous peoples, as recognized under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The call for action for redistribution of land is also tied to current environmental campaigns to prevent the construction of further mines, dams and hydroelectric plants in the South of Chile. 2009 saw land occupations, demonstrations, forest fires and threats from the indigenous communities and those supporting them towards the government and Chilean and foreign companies.

The offenses and acts committed by Mapuche and non-indigenous activists have been and are currently being prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation originally introduced by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). The law allows prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense for up to six months and to conceal the identity of witnesses, who may give evidence in court behind screens. In 2010, the Mapuche launched a number of hunger strikes in attempt to change in the anti-terrorism legislation.

Overview of the organization: The Centre for Investigation and Defence South (CIDSUR) is a not-for-profit, non-governmental, community organisation working in the South of Chile, to investigate and document violations of Human Rights. They provide legal assistance to predominately indigenous individuals (Mapuches) both adults and children who, through their participation in civil protests to reclaim their native lands or against government action, have either been arrested or interrogated by officials of the State.

Officially founded in 2011, CIDSUR has been operational in some form since 2010. The team is comprised of a group of human rights lawyers who came together under a common cause to support and defend the indigenous community. Since then, they have worked protecting the human rights of both Mapuche people and other inhabitants in the South of Chile who have been accused of crimes associated with social protests. Different state institutions and departments often bring in ‘laws of exceptions’ to prosecute these individuals. (Law No.18.314 regarding terrorist acts and Law No.19.927 regarding inland security of the state – counter-terrorism legislation mentioned above) In addition, the group works to bring cases against military and police officials who, through their interventions during protests, stand accused of violations of human rights including torture and inhumane and degrading treatment of ingenious and non-indigenous individuals.

Main objectives of CIDSUR: To provide free specialised legal support and representation to all who face prosecution by the Chilean state and who are vulnerable to human rights violations, focusing on Mapuche children and adults. To support, investigate and defend in court indigenous and non-indigenous citizens both adults and children who stand accused of crimes associated with civil protest to ensure that they have a fair and just legal trial and that their human rights are protected. To monitor and protect human rights, through research and documentation of cases where there is a direct violation by state agents and individuals of those rights.

Main beneficiaries: All people, both indigenous and non-indigenous, minors and adults, women and men living in southern Chile, that are affected by unfair and discriminatory actions that violate their fundamental human rights by agents of the state and its justice system.