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The Pinochet Case- Issues and Ideas from Human Rights Watch Articles

  • Pinochet 17 year dictatorship. Systematic use of kidnapping, torture, murder. Disappeared 2,000 people. Implemented secret police 'DINA' to commit atrocities, had prison camps- basically concentration camps- all over Chile.
  • In 1978 Pinochet passed a self-amnesty for the Chilean military protecting military officials from prosecution for atrocities committed between 1973-1978- the most violent years of the dictatorship
  • The perpetrators of crime have gone unpunished and there has been little national reconciliation in Chile, other than the 1995 Retting Commission, a truth commission which revealed a limited amount of the atrocities committed during the dictatorship.
  • Pinochet ruled as dictator for 17 years in Chile, and then before resigning appointed himself to the Supreme Court, where he enjoys diplomatic immunity, (know as desafuero, and common for judges and government officials) in many Latin American countries.
  • However, under international law several countries are now trying to extradite Pinochet for crimes against humanity- including systematic executions and disappearances which are subject to universal jurisdiction.
  • In 1998 Pinochet was detained in England for his crimes to be indited by Spain…obviously his diplomatic immunity is not covered under international law. Spain, France, and Switzerland are now seeking to extradite Pinochet. Under international law it is increasingly difficult for leaders to get away with crimes.
  • The 1980 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is especially important in this case, since Chile, England, France, and Switzerland were all part of the convention. This convention binds England to either try Pinochet in England or allow him to be indited to Spain. The Convention was established precisely to deny torturers a safe-haven.
  • Chile signed the above treaty in 1988, and is therefore held responsible for crimes committed after 1988, which includes 28 cases of torture and execution for the case of Spain. However, the prosecutor will argue that each act of torture must be considered within the context of a continuing conspiracy to torture, using torture as a weapon of intimidation and political persecution, relied on within an institutional framework as evidenced by the creation of the secret police, 'DINA' and Operation Condor- network of terror between four countries of the southern Cone (including the dictatorships of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay).
  • Also, under international law 'disappearances' are considered a continuing crime until the whereabouts of the missing are ascertained. Furthermore, the state of the disappeared is considered a form of torture for the their loved ones and relatives. In Chile there are officially 957 individuals who are still considered disappeared.
  • In June of 1999, international pressure convinced the United States to declassify thousands of pages of US documents on Chile that gave evidence of Pinochet's guilt.
  • England is obliged to try Pinochet or extradite him to Spain, however there is a clause in English law that claims that those facing trial must be fit to participate. So Pinochet has claimed that he is too ill to stand trial. However, there was a precedent set when several World War II criminals--Barbie, Touvier, and Papon--were tried and sentenced even though they were ill.
  • In March 2000 Pinochet was returned to Chile on medical grounds, and was to be examined by the Chilean military hospital- notorious as a safe haven for military leaders. Human Rights watch and other organizations are demanding that Pinochet have an independent medical examination.
  • In Chile, after Pinochet was detained in England, judges began to exercise more independence by initiating the process of trying Chilean War criminals who had never been punished. Before Pinochet had left Chile there was little progress toward national reconciliation. However, we can already see this democratic progress thwarted as Pinochet is back in Chile and there is a proposed constitutional reform th February, 2000, that would give permanent immunity to former heads of state- a huge threat to the democratic process as it would mean blanket immunity for all past and future dictators.
  • Chilean court process is complicated…different courts and legal system…Pinochet seeking immunity in Chile, but Chilean supreme court rejected Pinochet's parliamentary immunity in August 2000. However, afterward, the Santiago appellate court dismissed charges against Pinochet due to procedural errors, in which there was a requirement that the defendant be allowed to make a preliminary statement before being charged, which Pinochet never did.
  • Also due to the procedures against Pinochet there was a meeting of Lagos whereone half of the council is from the army is an ominous sign, as it shows that Pinochet's indictment has become an issue of National Security.
  • However, even if never punished this whole process is a huge step forward for international Human Rights, sending a message to the world that this is the end of immunity for leaders who commit crimes against humanity. The Pinochet case has
    set a new precedent. We can see the effects of this precedent in the Habre case of Senegal, where the former head of state is now being tried for committing Human Rights violations.