On April 25, 2019, police used violent force against students from various universities and high schools participating in a protest on Alameda Bernardo O’Higgins, the main street in Santiago.
The protest, organized by the Confederation of Students of Chile (Confech) and the Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES), demanded broad education reform, including free education, non-sexist education, changes in education financing, and services for mental health, among other issues. Confech and ACES planned concurrent demonstrations across the country.
The protest in Santiago appeared to be peaceful, with roughly 5,000 students marching through the streets, carrying banners. Police in riot gear arrived in armored vehicles and fired tear gas and water cannons at students. A few students reportedly threw stones back at police or got into physical altercations with officers. Some reports indicate that students were arrested; however, it is unclear how many. It is also unclear how many were injured as a result of the violence, if any.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force in an apparent effort to restrict students’ nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Chile is a party. While state authorities have a right to maintain security and order, they must do so in ways that minimize the risk of injury or harm to individuals and that do not restrict the nonviolent expressive activity. Likewise, while students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to refrain from physical violence. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force to restrict or retaliate against student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.