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Michelle Marguerite Peña Herreros a 27-year-old engineering student at the State Technical University (Universidad Técnica del Estado), was eight months pregnant when she was arrested on 20 June 1975 by members of the DINA. Though there were no direct witnesses to the arrest, there is evidence to suggest that she was detained at home in the Las Rejas neighbourhood of Santiago, possibly at the same time as Ricardo Lagos Salinas with whom she shared the house and who also ''disappeared'' after being detained by members of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), Directorate of National Intelligence. In July 1975, a prisoner who had been held at the Villa Grimaldi, a secret detention centre run by the DINA, reported hearing the voice of Michelle Peña.

She was an active member of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista). Her arrest and subsequent ''disappearance'' took place in the context of a series of raids by DINA agents against leaders of the Socialist Party who were in hiding at the time. Other members of the party arrested in June and July 1975 who also count among the ''disappeared'' are: Ricardo Lagos, Exequiel Ponce, Mireya Rodríguez, Carlos Lorca, Modesta Carolina Wiff, Rosa Soliz Poveda and Sara Donoso Palacios.

In July 1975, Michelle Peña's sister submitted a recurso de amparo (similar to a writ of habeas corpus) to the Santiago Appeals Court. The Minister of the Interior denied that she was in custody and the appeal was rejected. On 29 August, a recurso de amparo was submitted to the Military Appeals Court (Corte Marcial) after relatives heard that she might be in the Santiago Military Hospital. The Military Appeals Court declared itself without jurisdiction and sent the case to the Santiago Appeals Court. On 26 September 1975, the court rejected the appeal and directed the case to the 6th Criminal Court.

The court requested information from the Military Hospital asking whether a pregnant woman had been at the hospital between 25 June and 2 August 1975 and whether she had been identified. The hospital responded by sending the medical notes of another patient who had subsequently thrown herself in front of a car. In July 1976, the court finished the investigative phase of the case and temporarily suspended proceedings. Its decision was upheld by the Santiago Appeals Court on 29 October.

A complaint for illegal detention (denuncia por detención ilegal) was presented to the 5th Criminal Court on 10 July 1975. The Ministry of the Interior, the head of the Secretaría Ejecutiva Nacional de Detenidos (SENDET), National Executive Secretariat for Detainees and the head of the Dirección de Inteligencia del Ejército (DINE), Intelligence Directorate of the Army, all denied that she had been detained. The court suspended proceedings on 30 October, a decision which was upheld by the Appeals Court on 19 January 1976.

In 1978, a criminal complaint was presented by human rights lawyers against General Manuel Contreras, former director of the DINA, and other senior officials of the intelligence agency for their responsibility for the abduction and subsequent ''disappearance'' of 70 people, including Michelle Peña Herreros, between 1974 and 1976. The case was one of the most important legal actions to be taken on behalf of the ''disappeared'' and contained substantial material, including personal testimonies to back up the allegations of illegal arrests, torture and ''disappearances'' by the DINA. The DINA was formally under the authority of the military junta, but in practice, it reported solely to the orders of General Pinochet.

The complaint was originally presented to the 10th Criminal Court which, without carrying out any investigations whatsoever, declared itself without jurisdiction to continue with the case and passed it to the military courts. The case was then closed pending new information. In 1983, the Military Appeals Court ruled to re-open the investigation of 35 of these cases but in November 1989 a military judge closed the proceedings on the basis of the 1978 Amnesty Law and because in the 10 years that the case had been open, it had not been possible ''to determine the responsibility of anybody'' ("determinar responsabilidad de persona alguna''). This decision was upheld by the Second Military Court on the grounds that "the penal responsibility of the people allegedly incriminated in the acts had expired" ("por encontrarse extinguida la responsabilidad penal de las personas presuntamente inculpadas en los hechos denunciados"). In 1990, the Supreme Court confirmed the closure of the cases, declaring the amnesty law to be constitutional.

The 70 cases in the original complaint were submitted by lawyers to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. In 1996 it concluded that the 1978 Amnesty Law violated the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) ratified by Chile in August 1990 and recommended the Chilean Government adapt internal legislation to conform to the ACHR so that the human rights violations of the military government can be investigated to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.

In January 2001 a criminal complaint for war crimes, injuries, abduction, removal of a minor and genocidal illicit association (querella criminal por crimenes de guerra, lesiones, secuestro agravado, sustraccion de menores, asociacion ilicita genocidica perpetrados) was submitted to investigating Judge Juan Guzmán against Augusto Pinochet and DINA chiefs for the ''disappearance'' of Michelle Peña.

Michelle Peña's case appeared on the list of names of 180 people arrested between 1973 and 1976 submitted by the armed forces to President Lagos in January 2001. According to the information supplied, she was arrested by the DINA and died on 25 June 1975. Her body was reportedly thrown into the sea near San Antonio. No information was given about where she was held prior to her death nor about the treatment she suffered.

The case is currently being investigated by the judge of the Tenth Criminal Court of Santiago, one of the judges appointed by the Supreme Court in June 2001 to look exclusively at cases of the ''disappeared''.



Source; Amnesty International – Document: AI Index: AMR 22/014/2001 dated 10 December 2001 – Titled ; CHILE - Testament to suffering and courage: the long quest for justice and truth


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