In the wake of a gay man’s torture and death at the hands of four neo-Nazis, Chile is under pressure to pass a hate crime legislation, as thousands attend his funeral in Santiago.  

AFP reports that people crowded the streets around the funeral cars that travelled for three hours between Daniel Zamudio’s house in south of the capital and the main cemetery, waving white handkerchiefs and throwing flowers.

Daniel, who was just 24, died from his injuries last Tuesday, twenty five days after his attack on March 3. He suffered a six-hour ordeal at the hands of his captors, and pictures released by his family showed that the openly gay youth had been beaten in the head, burned with cigarettes, and his body had carvings of Nazi symbols and slogans.

The four men who have been arrested, aged 19 to 25, deny the charges laid against them, and the accusation of being neo-Nazis. Speaking of the decision to charge the men with aggravated murder, regional governor Cecilia Perez said: “As a government, we did this in the name of millions of Chileans who, after the murder of Daniel Zamudio, feel that Chile has to change.”

Today, the UN stepped in to call for the passage of an anti-discimination law. Rupert Colville, speaking for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said: “We deplore the violent criminal act that took the life of this young man and urge the Chilean Congress to pass a law against discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, in full compliance with relevant international human rights standards.” He also added that the tragedy should be seen in the wider context of hate-crimes against all sexual minorities, emphasising the recent UN report which found “startling high levels” of homophobic violence around the world.

The killing has resulted in a national soul-searching in Chile. The president of the country, Sebastian Piñera, said earlier this week: “We want to reiterate today that we have made a commitment. We are not going to tolerate any kind of discrimination against Chilean citizens based on their socioeconomic status, their religion or sexual orientation.” Mr Piñera expressed his support for civil union between same-sex couples in a speech last year, though he opposes equal marriage in what is a deeply Catholic country.

Gay rights activists have been angered by the fact that a hate crimes bill, introduced seven years ago, had been effectively blocked by religious (and social) conservatives. “At every turn, this law has been cut. At every turn, there have been efforts to trim it. There was even resistance to having discrimination based on sexual orientation included in the [proposed bill]. This is something Chile can no longer permit. And now, after the death of Daniel, which has brought this moment of sensibility, it is time to pass [the legislation],” Caroline Taha, president of the liberal Party for Democracy, said.

Chile’s Senate had approved an anti-discrimination bill in November, which would outlaw discimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation or religion, but right-wing representatives have sought to block it over concerns that it may lead to same-sex unions, which the proposed bill will also outlaw. Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter has added that efforts would be stepped up to pass the legislation as soon as possible.