The Pinochet Decision
This week, a British magistrate will decide whether to extradite Augusto Pinochet to Spain or release him. England has detained the former Chilean dictator for eleven plus months. In that time, his case has brought to world attention the principals of international human rights law.
The Chilean government argues that Spain has no right to try the former tyrant, 1973-1990. But the facts - established by an official Chilean government commission in 1995 - show that under his watch, more than 2,200 people were executed, an additional thousand disappeared and hundreds of thousands tortured. Facts be damned, argues Chile's Foreign Minister, Chilean sovereignty includes the exclusive right to try its citizens.
Thus far, British and Spanish courts have dismissed such arguments. Crimes against humanity, terrorism and genocide - like piracy -- belong to international law. When Pinochet stepped down as President in 1990, Chilean courts dared not charge him or other high officials with misdeeds carried out under his rule. Indeed, he forced an amnesty decree down the civilian government's throat. Ironically, since Spanish judges charged Pinochet, several Chilean judges, emboldened by his detention in England, have agreed to hear cases against other high military officials charged with murder.
Pinochet's arrest has also frightened other human right violators. Thanks to the Pinochet case, human rights violators no longer travel abroad with security. Indeed, rumors abound that Henry Kissinger makes discrete inquiries before he travels abroad, to assure himself that he wont get "Pinocheted" -- the term arose from the British government's detention of the former criminal en jefe.
US officials have remained ambivalent about this process. They would like to see Serbian officials tried as war criminals because it coincides with Clinton policy in that area. Yet, they're concerned that the Pinochet case principals could apply to former US officials, like Kissinger. It was he, along with Richard Nixon, who ordered the destabilization of Chile and the illegal bombing of Cambodia - terrorism and crimes against humanity. Think if the concerned powers had warned General Wiranta and company that they would face an international arrest order and have all assets frozen unless they stopped their cleansing of east Timor. Law might well have had greater leverage, than threatening to withhold IMF funds or freeze military aid. Instead, the intervening powers waited until the Indonesian military thugs had done their damage; they still have not called for Wiranta's arrest for presiding over East Timor's destruction.
The Pinochet case affords human rights adherents a new and very legal weapon. If the British magistrate orders Pinochet extradited to Spain to face trial, the 83 year old ex tyrant will appeal. But no matter, a precedent has already been set. Kissinger et. al. will not grow old without worrying about paying for their crimes. thanks to the Pinochet case. Human rights violators no longer travel with the same sense of security they once had. Indeed, rumors have it that Henry Kissinger now makes discrete inquiries before he embarks on a voyage abroad, to assure himself that he will not get "Pinocheted," the new word that has developed as a result of the legal action undertaken by Tony Blair's government.
Saul Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Pomona, CA 91768 tel - 909-869-3115 fax - 909-869-4751