Chile: Torture and the Naval Training Ship the "Esmeralda"

17 November 2005
Amnesty International

Chile: Torture and the Naval Training Ship the "Esmeralda"
Amnesty International, Summary of Report AI: 22/006/2003
International Secretariat, London, 26 June 2003

Chile's return to civilian rule in 1990 saw the start of official attempts to gather information to clarify the truth about "disappearances", extrajudicial executions and deaths resulting from torture by state agents during the country's military government of 1973-1990. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (known as the Rettig Commission) (Comisián Nacional de Verdad y Reconciliación) was set up by the administration of President Patricio Aylwin, and published its report in March 1991. The report, known as the Rettig Report, registers a number of navy vessels used as detention and torture centers by the Chilean navy at the time of the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. The Chilean naval training ship "Esmeralda" is listed among two others. According to the Rettig Report, in the "Esmeralda", a special group of Navy officials "installed a unit for the interrogation of detainees. Such interrogation included, as a general rule, ill-treatment and torture".

While there is no evidence that torture was committed on the "Esmeralda" after 1973, the ship is nevertheless seen as a symbol of the cruel fate of political prisoners in Chilean recent history, especially of the indiscriminate use of torture by government officials. However, in spite of the information provided by the Rettig Report and the testimonies of the "Esmeralda's" torture victims and their relatives, the human rights violations that took place on the ship have not been fully clarified and none of their perpetrators brought to justice.

The Chilean naval training ship "Esmeralda" (Buque Escuela "Esmeralda") makes yearly training voyages visiting ports around the world acting as a "roving" embassy for Chile. In April of this year the "Esmeralda" embarked on its 48th training voyage, with plans to call at ports in Peru, Ecuador, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, UK, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. These voyages have taken place both during the military government and in the years since the return to civilian rule.

During one of the voyages of the "Esmeralda", the New York City Council and the New York State Assembly and Senate passed resolutions in June 1986, expressing opposition to the participation of the Chilean naval vessel "Esmeralda" in the July 4th Liberty weekend celebration and urging the invitation for her participation to be withdrawn. The Resolution submitted by a New York State Senator in the same month called for the withdrawal of the invitation to the "Esmeralda" and established that "Instead of evoking the pride of the Chilean people, the Esmeralda summons up memories of dead friends and missing relatives, midnight arrests and mysterious disappearances, detention in unknown locations and repression of a democratic nation".

Over the years, as part of Amnesty's International work against the gross human rights violations committed in Chile during the military government, Amnesty International has documented and published a number of testimonies of victims tortured on the "Esmeralda". One of the victims of torture of the "Esmeralda" was a British-Chilean priest, Michael Woodward. He died as a result of the torture he was subjected to by members of the security forces on board the "Esmeralda". His case is featured in this document, along with the testimonies of other victims.

In recent years, there has been considerable international interest in the "Esmeralda" and on Chile in general by the media due to the detention and extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom in 1998 against Augusto Pinochet.

To date thousands of victims of torture during the period of the military government who survived their ordeal have not been acknowledged by the authorities and are still asking for official recognition and justice, including those who were victims of torture on the "Esmeralda". The Chilean government and high ranking navy officials have continued to deny that naval ships and installations were used as torture centres. Initiatives by successive civilian governments to deal with Chile's serious legacy of human rights violations have not included the grave crime of torture which in Chile was widespread and systematic during the years of military government.

Amnesty International is urging the Chilean Government and the Chilean navy to acknowledge the serious human rights violations committed on the "Esmeralda" ; to conduct independent and impartial investigations of all allegations of torture and other human rights violations on navy installations and vessels during the military government; to bring the perpetrators to justice and to morally and materially compensate the victims and their families.

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