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Chile has no specific laws on the protection of environmental defenders[1]  and the government recently decided not to sign the regional Escazú Agreement, which provides for the protection of environmental defenders.[2]

The Political Constitution generally protects certain rights,[3] including the right to life and  freedom of expression and association, reunion, and petition.  None of the environmental laws in force, such as Law 20600 Creating the Environmental Courts or Law 19300 on the General Bases of the Environment, provide for specific protections to environmental activists or defenders.[4]

Although Chile does not have the highest number of deaths in the Americas, there have been recent reports of a number of deaths and unclarified suicides, especially in areas where access to water has been under attack by agricultural businesses.[5] Environmental activists complain that their leaders have not received police protection, considering the risks and threats experienced in the areas affected by environmental conflict.[6]  In addition, there is the case of an indigenous environmental leader who has fought against illegal logging activities in the traditional indigenous area inhabited by the Mapuches.[7] He is being accused of a number of criminal activities and has been in pretrial detention for almost fourteen months awaiting a trial, which has been postponed many times.[8] It was recently announced that his trial was scheduled to start on November 13, 2019.[9]

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Prepared by Graciela Rodriguez-Ferrand
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
November 2019


[1] José Olavarría, Corte Interamericana de DD.HH. Fija Como Prioridad el Acuerdo de Escazú en Informe sobre Persecución de Defensores Ambientales, El Mostrador (Oct. 4, 2019), https://perma.cc/NXA7-BLEG.

[2] Chile Debe Firmar el Acuerdo de Escazú, Radio JCL (Sept. 13, 2019), https://perma.cc/DV6W-B3UF.  

[3] Constitución Política de Chile arts. 19 & 20, Diario Oficial [D.O.], Sept. 22, 2005, https://perma.cc/GPP4-FUJ9.

[4] Ley 20600 Crea los Tribunales Ambientales, D.O., June 28, 2012, https://perma.cc/T6LM-GMEE; Ley 19300 Aprueba Ley de Bases del Medio Ambiente, D.O., Mar. 9, 1994, https://perma.cc/S4GP-7Q8F.

[5] Héctor Cossio, Muertes, Suicidios no Esclarecidos y Amenazas: Los Peligros que Enfrentan los Activistas Medioambientales en Chile, El Mostrador (Feb. 9, 2019), https://perma.cc/PB4S-CR9H.

[6] Id.

[7] Upcoming Trial of Mapuche Leader Alberto Curamil, Front Line Defenders (Nov. 11, 2019), https://perma.cc/789W-PEVZ.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020