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Chilean hate-crime legislation signed into law

Friday, July 13, 2012    

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile's president signed an anti-discrimination law yesterday following the killing of a gay man beaten by attackers who carved swastikas into his body.

The law was approved in May after being stuck in Congress for seven years. President Sebastian Pinera had urged lawmakers to speed its approval after the slaying of Daniel Zamudio in March set off a national debate about hate crimes in Chile.

Zamudio was found beaten and mutilated in a city park, with swastikas carved into his body. The UN human rights office had urged Chile to pass legislation against hate crimes and discrimination after the killing. Many people in Chile refer to the new measure, which enables people to file anti-discrimination lawsuits and adds hate-crime sentences for violent crimes, as the Zamudio law.

"Without a doubt, Daniel's death was painful but it was not in vain," Pinera said at a press conference joined by Zamudio's parents.

"His passing not only unified wills to finally approve this anti-discrimination law but it also helped us examine our conscience and ask ourselves: have we ever discriminated against someone? ... After his death we'll think twice, thrice or four times before we fall prey to that behaviour."

Four suspects, some with criminal records for attacks on homosexuals, have been jailed in Zamudio's killing. Prosecutors are seeking murder charges.

Chile remains among the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. It legalised divorce in 2004, becoming one of the last nations in the world to grant married couples that right.

Some Protestant churches had opposed the anti-discrimination law, saying it could be a first step toward gay marriage, which Chile forbids and which is not explicitly included in the measure.

The Roman Catholic Church, which retains a strong influence over Chilean society, also expressed some concerns about the law, but gay and human rights activists hailed the measure as a step toward equality.

"This law is a giant leap toward creating tools that can prevent and punish discrimination," Gay Liberation and Integration Movement President Rolando Jimenez told the Associated Press. "There's still a lot to be done and we need the institutions to enforce it."

Lawmakers are also preparing to debate a civil union law proposed by Pinera that would grant inheritance and other rights to same-sex couples.

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