The body representing judges in Chile has made an unprecedented apology for the action of its members under the military government of General Augusto Pinochet.

The judges said their colleagues had abandoned their role as protectors of basic rights.

"To those who were victims of state abuse ... the time has come to ask for the forgiveness of victims ... and of Chilean society," the Chilean Judges' Association said.

The comments come just a week before the 40th anniversary of the 11 September 1973 coup that toppled elected socialist Salvador Allende.

Pinochet remained in power there until 1990. It is estimated around 3,000 people were killed under Pinochet's dictatorship.

"It must be said and recognised clearly and completely: the court system and especially the Supreme Court at that time, failed in their roles as safeguards of basic human rights, and to protest those who were victims of state abuse," the judges' statement said.