Sting, O'Connor to Sing in Chile Amnesty Concert

Some of the pop world's most acclaimed artists will gather here Friday to sing Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up," kicking off Amnesty International's latest consciousness-raising concert.

The setting for the two-day event--which will feature Sting, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Sinead O'Connor and New Kids on the Block, among others--will be the National Stadium, a powerful symbol of Chile's sad record of human rights violations.

The 75,000-capacity facility was used as a detention center by security forces after Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Marxist President Salvador Allende and his Popular Unity coalition in a bloody coup Sept. 11, 1973.

Though exact figures are not available, at least 4,000 supporters of Allende's government were herded into the stadium. Several hundred were executed and tortured. One victim was Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, who died after his hands were severed by security agents.

"All artists are very conscious of human rights issues from a humanitarian perspective," said Santiago Larrain, executive secretary of Amnesty International's 2,000-member Chilean chapter.

The idea is not to remember a painful past but to celebrate Chile's return to democracy and send a hopeful message to countries where human rights abuses continue, Larrain said.

"Chile is going to be putting on a party for liberty," said the executive secretary, who, together with a squad of 2,500 technicians, is helping to in organize the concerts, which will also feature Ruben Blades, Wynton Marsalis and two local ensembles, Inti-Illimani and Congreso.

Two Spanish groups will also participate in the event, whose theme is "Embrace of Hope." They are Luz Casal and Los Ronaldos. Television Espanola will broadcast the concert live in Spain.

Sting, who dedicated the song "They Dance Alone" from his last album to the relatives of victims of Pinochet's 16 years of authoritarian rule, was among the first to accept the invitation to perform. That paved the way for other artists to sign up, said Larrain.

"Getting the first big name is always the hardest," said Larrain, "and Sting was of great help."

Fears by Amnesty officials that a recent three-day "Rock in Chile" festival with David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Bryan Adams would hurt sales for this weekend's event have eased.

Organizers said they expect capacity crowds for the Friday and Saturday concerts, which are expected to net approximately $300,000 for Amnesty International. Ticket prices for the concerts range from about $6 to $30, with most of the tickets in the lower range.

The international human rights organization had hoped to end its ambitious five-continent "Human Rights Now!" world tour in Santiago in 1988, but bureaucratic foot-dragging by government officials working under the Pinochet dictatorship thwarted their plans, Amnesty officials said.

Since then, Chile has made a successful transition to democracy. Amnesty believes the time is ripe for a celebration.

"When the concert was held for Chileans in Mendoza, Argentina, there was a sense of incompleteness among the Chilean chapter of Amnesty," said Jack Healey, executive director of Amnesty's U.S. chapter. "The idea of holding the concert now is to show to the world that nonviolent change can take place, and that this is good news."

According to Larrain, Chile is acknowledging international support to Chilean dissenters during the 16 years of the Pinochet regime. "It is Chile saying thank you," he said.

Even though democracy has meant an end to human rights violations in Chile, the concert is coming at a time when human rights is a lively issue in Chilean politics. "Chile is undergoing a gigantic debate," Healey said.

Parliament is considering a law to abolish the death penalty--with Amnesty actively lobbying in favor of the legislation. A special commission set up in March by President Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat and successor to Pinochet, has been commissioned to uncover "the truth on human rights violations under the military government."

When he created the commission in June, Aylwin said that "the truth has to be known before reconciliation can occur."

The Truth and Justice Commission, as it has been called, will issue its final report in March. Gustavo Villalobos, a lawyer at the Vicariate of Solidarity, a human rights defense organization created by the Chilean Catholic Church, said that represents a "crucial date in resolving the human rights problems of Chile." The commission is currently processing more than 1,500 cases of human rights abuse.

Relatives of victims have rallied behind the cry "no to impunity" and have been demanding that torturers and executioners be brought to justice, a stand that Amnesty backs.

Even though the government is sympathetic, it says it is hamstrung by an amnesty law passed in 1978 by military authorities. The law clears government agents and left-wing supporters of any legal responsibility for violent acts between 1973 and 1978.

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