U.K. judge says Pinochet can be extradited

by Sascha Matuszak

A London magistrate ruled Friday that former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet could be extradited to Spain to stand trial for torture and violations of human rights. But the case still must endure a lengthy appeals process before Pinochet’s final fate is determined.
A 1973 Pinochet-led coup ousted then-President Salvador Allende, and in the years that followed, thousands of left-wing Allende supporters were detained, tortured and murdered.
London authorities arrested Pinochet on Oct. 16, 1998, on a warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, setting off the lengthy extradition process.
“Garzon didn’t invent a new law to do this … (but) there are virtually no precedents for this type of action,” said Jorge Saavedra, a Chilean national and chief legal officer of Centro Legal, a Minneapolis organization. Garzon listed 32 violations of international human rights committed under Pinochet’s rule from 1973 to 1988.
Pinochet’s case is similar to Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of World War II criminals, said David Weissbrodt, a University law professor.
The Hague Tribunal was set up as an international tribunal following the Balkan wars to try war criminals.
But more Serbs have been tried on a national rather than international level, including in Germany, France and Switzerland, he added.
These developments indicate the Pinochet case might not be as monumental as it seems.
Yet alleged war criminals from the Balkans, like Slobodan Milosevic, are accused under an indictment issued by an United Nations-created international tribunal, said Fred Morrisson, another University law professor. So the U.N.’s jurisdiction is not in question.
The Pinochet indictment, however, was issued by a Spanish judge, which is why the validity of that warrant had to be decided by the British courts.
The case
During the past year, the Pinochet case has gone through a series of twists and turns.
On Nov. 25, 1998, the United Kingdom’s highest court, the Law Lords, ruled that Pinochet can be extradited to Spain and is not immune from prosecution because he is a former head of state.
Less than one month later, on Dec. 17, the Lords dismissed the first ruling because of bias and ordered a fresh hearing into Pinochet’s immunity from prosecution.
Finally, on March 24, 1999, the Lords ruled that Pinochet was not immune from prosecution but reduced the number of charges from 32 to two.
The reduction came after the Lords recognized the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture as the benchmark for immunity; Britain became a party to the convention in 1988, so all charges against Pinochet prior to 1988 were dropped, leaving one charge of torture and one of conspiracy to torture.
Garzon promptly added 43 new charges of torture occurring after 1988.
The precedent
“There has never been an extradition charge against a man like Pinochet before,” said Claudia Saavedra, Jorge’s sister and a lawyer for Dorsey and Whitney, a Minneapolis law firm.
The impact of this case on international law could be enormous.
“Now, international law in respect to human rights allows the arrest and prosecution of human rights violators anywhere, in any state which respects human rights laws,” Jorge Saavedra said. “It’s putting despots on notice, saying, ‘You can run, but you can’t hide.'”
Dangers, however, come with this new development. Now all heads of state and former officials are vulnerable to arrest and detainment.
“There are thousands of magistrates around the world; some of whom may be less careful or less well-trained than others,” said Morrisson. “If any one of them can issue a warrant for any head of state … there is a great potential for mischief.”
Chile’s reaction
Chile has been sharply divided over the Pinochet case, with the business, the military and conservative political organizations staunchly supporting him and human rights activists and left-wing supporters vehemently opposing him.
“There’s no one who has a lukewarm opinion of Pinochet; you either support him or you don’t,” Claudia Saavedra said. “Most people just want to forget about it.”
While in power, Pinochet controlled the media, traveled into and out of the country and imposed censorship at will. The crackdown on opposition following the coup and into the 1980s forced many Chileans to either support Pinochet or keep their mouths shut.
“The penalty for being anti-Pinochet was either torture, disappearance or death,” Jorge Saavedra said.
In 1990, the Rettig Commission was set up under President Patricio Aylwin to investigate events following the coup. The commission found that 1,102 cases of disappearance and 2,095 cases of extrajudicial killings and torture took place during the military rule.
However, the commission had no prosecutorial power, and Chileans were unsatisfied with the lack of justice.
“The conviction and prosecution for the human rights violations I think Pinochet committed will go a long way toward restoring the national confidence of Chileans,” Jorge Saavedra said. “(It) will confirm what the anti-Pinochet people have been saying all along.”
“Terror with impunity is not as easy as it used to be,” he added. “This case shows the door is closing.”

Sascha Matuszak covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3216.