Chile: Prison Officials Complicit In Possible HIV Infection Of Gay Prisoners

On August 5, 1996, 37 gay inmates were subjected to involuntary HIV tests with contaminated needles at the Colina prison in Santiago, Chile. Upon their arrival to Colina prison, the men were ordered to strip, and each inmate was involuntarily subjected to an HIV test.

According to the prisoners, the prison medic used only 10 needles to draw blood from all 37 gay prisoners, despite information that 22 of the men were already infected with HIV.
In an interview on August 8 with Trinidad Lathrop, an attorney at Centro Legal Chile who has worked extensively with the gay prisoners, the prison medic denied the prisoners' accounts. Similarly, the chief medical officer has refused to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, despite sworn testimony from all of the prisoners interviewed that, indeed, only 10 unsterilized needles had been used to test all 37 inmates, possibly exposing all of the gay prisoners to the HIV virus.

The gay inmates previously had been held in another prison under conditions deemed deplorable by human rights activists; after a Chilean court ordered an investigation of the prisoners' quarters, the inmates were promptly transferred to the newly built high security Colina facility, where they were forcibly subjected to the HIV tests.

Since April 1996, the Centro Lambda Chile has worked to provide support for gay prisoners being forced to live in subhuman conditions. Lawyers with the Center have conducted investigations and brought legal action against the prisons in order to improve the gay prisoners' daily living conditions. They have also sought support and assistance from other social, religious, and political organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations.

Humanist Party President Tomas Hirsch and Trinidad Lathrop have demanded a full investigation of the prisoners' accusations.

IGLHRC and Centro Lambda Chile are requesting that letters be sent emphasizing the following points:

  1. The goverment of Chile must conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of the incident to determine what policies and personnel allowed it to occur.
  2. The government should make a public accounting of the results of this investigation.
  3. The kind of involuntary HIV antibody testing to which the prisoners were subject has been documented to be counterproductive in overall strategies for addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and constitues a violation of fundamental human rights.
  4. The Chilean government has the responsibility to protect the lives and the fundamental human rights of all citizens, including those in prison, and must take responsibility for ensuring the human rights and basic health standards of those in prison.

Write to:

Sra. Soledad Alvear
[Minister of Justice]
Ministerio de Justicia
Morandé 107
Santiago, CHILE
Fax: (56 2) 695 45 88
Claudio Martinez
[Dir. of Police, in charge of prisons]
Rosas 127
Santiago, CHILE
Fax: (56 2) 698 21 55

Please send copies of your letters to IGLHRC and to:

Centro Lambda Chile
Casilla Postal 53575
Centro de Casillas de Santiago
Santiago de Chile