Chilean President Bachelet shows deep emotion at human rights event

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet greets a supporter after delivering a speech in Santiago

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet recalled with deep emotion the torture of her father and in a public appearance on Friday recognized the role of the state in human rights violations during the country’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship.

Bachelet was attending a public act of recognition in Santiago after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2015 found against the Chilean state for denying justice to 12 members of the air force.

The 12 had faced a “war council” after being associated with opposition to the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet, an event that still has repercussions in politics, law and social cohesion in Chile four decades later.

Bachelet’s father, although not named in the case, was an air force general who remained loyal to ousted socialist president Salvador Allende. He was tortured and died in prison, while Bachelet and her mother went into exile.

Referring to last year’s human rights court ruling, Bachelet said in a speech broadcast on CNN: “Thanks to this finding, other victims of the war councils will be able to ask for revision of their cases and restore their dignity and military honor.”

She added, in a voice cracking with emotion, “Today the state of Chile solemnly recognizes that you, the victims, suffered grave human rights violations.”

Bachelet then openly cried, in a rare display of public emotion. “I’m sorry for getting emotional,” she added, to applause from the audience.

An estimated 3,000 people were killed by the state during the Pinochet dictatorship and thousands more tortured or fled into exile.

In its ruling last year, the human rights court said that in reparation the state must hold an act of recognition, allow victims to have their original “war council” sentences annulled, and pay financial compensation.

Bachelet first led the country from 2006 to 2010, and then returned for a second term in 2014.

She has been battling low approval ratings in the last two years as pledged reforms have failed to please many Chileans, but previously was a popular leader who attracted much sympathy for her family history.

(Reporting by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Matthew Lewis)