Press Release

Relations Between the Republic of Chile and ESO

A Clarification

14 May 1993

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, in reply to questions raised by the media would like to clarify its position with regard to recent events which concern the relations between ESO and the Republic of Chile, the host state for the ESO observatories in the southern hemisphere.

In 1964, the Government of the Republic of Chile and ESO concluded a Treaty (Spanish: Convenio) which has formed the basis for the formal relationship between the signatories during the past three decades.

Recently, two issues have been raised by the Chilean side which imply important changes in the established Treaty relations between ESO and the Republic of Chile. The first concerns the access of Chilean astronomers to ESO facilities at this organisation's astronomical observatory and the second the question of labour relations between ESO and its employees of Chilean nationality.

In 1992/1993, a joint Chile/ESO Committee with representatives from the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on one side and the ESO Executive and Council on the other side was constituted to look into these matters. The joint Committee most recently met in Santiago de Chile on April 19 and 20, 1993, and the next meeting is expected to take place in the second half of June. During these negotiations, ESO proposed that the Republic of Chile may become a full member of the organisation. Both sides have emphasized the efficient and mutually respectful interaction during the past 30 years and their wish to achieve an acceptable solution which ensures ESO's continued activities in the Republic of Chile.

According to recent reports from Santiago de Chile, the Chamber of Deputies (one of the chambers of the Chilean Parliament; the other is the Senate), has just adopted a resolution formulated by the Commission for Foreign Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies, which formally requests the Government of Chile to re-negotiate the 1964 Treaty with ESO and also mentions the possibility that the Chilean Government can make use of its right to revoke this Treaty. It is especially the latter point which has now been widely elaborated by the media.

ESO is very preoccupied by this development after thirty years of smooth collaboration with the Chilean Government and the Chilean astronomical community, taking also into account its considerable investment in Chile. The revocation of a host state agreement with an international organisation would constitute an extreme precedent in international cooperation between states and international organisations.

Chilean astronomers' access to ESO telescopes

Since the first telescopes were installed at the ESO La Silla observatory in the late 1960's, and notwithstanding the fact that Chile is not a member state of ESO, Chilean astronomers have had access to them at the same conditions as have astronomers in the ESO member states. To obtain observing time at ESO, all astronomers (including ESO's own staff) must submit a research proposal to the international Observing Programmes Committee (OPC) which then allocates such time according to scientific merit. Over the years, many Chilean astronomers have submitted excellent proposals and have received observing time at La Silla. Many current research programmes in Chilean astronomy are based on such observations. In addition, ESO has given substantial support to Chilean astronomers in the form of equipment, e.g. computers and books.

However, Chilean astronomers now would like to obtain a fixed percentage of the total observation time available at the ESO telescopes, and also at the future ESO Very Large Telescope, presently under construction at the Paranal mountain, 130 km south of the city of Antofagasta. ESO has expressed its willingness to consider this procedure, on the condition that observing programmes by Chilean astronomers continue to be judged according to scientific merit.

It now appears that this issue may be settled.

Labour relations between ESO and its employees of Chilean nationality

In 1991, a group ofESO employees of Chilean nationality set up a trade union (the "Sindicato"), based on Chilean law, at the ESO La Silla observatory. However, because of the international regulations which govern ESO's internal relations with its personnel and which correspond to well-established principles of internationallaw applied by all other international, intergovernmental organisations, e.g. those in the United Nations' family of organisations, ESO could not recognize the "Sindicato". In fact, ESO recognizes only the already existing joint ESO staff union, which was established under these regulations in the late 1960's.

During the past two years, two ESO staff members of Chilean nationality and founding members of the "Sindicato" have repeatedly attacked ESO in the Chilean media, among others accusing it of "offending the dignity of the Chilean nation by offering membership in the Organisation to the Republic of Chile as 500 years ago colonialist powers offered to unknowing natives mirrors in exchange for valuable treasures". In reaction, ESO earlier this year initiated a disciplinary action against these two staff members; this issue has been widely covered in the Chilean press, and not always in a way that represents all points of view.

In order to dispel any doubt which has arisen among certain parts of the Chilean public, ESO would hope that this particular labour conflict may be decided in the correct and appropriate procedure by the competent Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, the forum of such disputes foreseen in ESO and other intergovernmental organisations.

In this connection, questions have been raised by the Chilean Government concerning the applicability of Chilean labour law to ESO's Chilean staff. Also this issue is now under discussion between the Chilean Government and ESO.


Richard West
Garching, Germany

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About the Release

Release No.:eso9303
Legacy ID:PR 02/93
Name:Chile, ESO HQ Garching
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory