Before the International Criminal Court (ICC), there have been numerous political problems in bringing
people to justice for committing horrendous crimes. But a number of specific criminal tribunals have started to
perhaps raise the stakes. As the title of an article1
from the French paper, Le Monde suggests, even Presidents are under pressure on issues of crimes
Taking one example here, this involves the case of the prosecution of former Chilean dictator, Augusto
Pinochet. He has been accused of ordering killings, abductions and torture of over 1000 Chileans and others
during his 17 years of rule: The original ruling2
against his arrest, October 1998, in UK due to his diplomatic/sovereign immunity, would have meant that people
like Sadaam Hussain and Slobodan Milosevic, would not be arrested or tried for crimes3
that they have committed while they were heads of state -- well not in the UK, anyway.
A subsequent potentially important step forward, where the original ruling against his arrest was
by Britain's highest court itself was overturned5
because one of the judges' wife worked for Amnesty International! But there had then been another decision by the
House of Lords who subsequently ruled that Pinochet did not have immunity6
from prosecution on charges of gross human rights violation. In fact, April 15, 1999 saw Jack Straw, the Home
Secretary in Britain, reveal that he had given authority for extradition proceedings of Pinochet, to Spain,
to go ahead7.
France was also re-evaluating whether it can prosecute Pinochet in France, for crimes against humanity. (The
families of two French men who had been killed in Chile had their complaints thrown out by a previous magistrate.)
On October 8, 1999 a British Magistrate decided officially
Pinochet's extradition to Spain. (Also check out this link9
to a Democracy Now radio show interview for more about this ruling.)
Just as this was turning out to be a successful case for human rights, in mid January 2000, Jack Straw, British
Home Secratary, claimed that medical doctors had declared Pinochet was unfit to stand trial and had to be
returned to Chile. The leading doctor said that he did not claim he could not stand trial, as this is beyond his
area of responsibilities and expertise. However, the way it was put,
Straw had misled the members of Parliament10.
This ended up allowing Pinochet to be released. He returned to Chile, in
apparent good health11.
However, there his immunity was revoked12
and at the beginning of December, 2000, a Chilean judge ordered the arrest of Pinochet13
in order to try him, while Argentina has also been seeking extradition. While in the middle of January 2001
there was initially a U-turn, at the end of January 2001, Pinochet's charges were
There had been an intense debate16
between the universal jurisdiction of international law, used as the basis for the arrest, and the claim that
this violates national sovereignty. Many political factors17
have prevented effective resolution of this issue thus far. Double standards18
when it comes to speaking out about trying some people but not others because there may have been a political
motive in the past does not help either.
Perhaps another thing emerging from this of importance is that there seems to be a possibility that other
brutal Latin American dictators of the past could also be brought to justice19.
As mentioned in the opening quote above, some have pointed out that while people like Pinochet can potentially
be bought to justice, others from more powerful nations have hardly ever been held accountable. However, while
there is a lot of credibility to that argument, it is also not an excuse not to try anyone at all! If the
stronger nations are able to prosecute former dictators and others, who they have sometimes supported, especially
in the name of humanity and democracy, then hopefully, more people in these countries become aware of these
issues, and slowly make their own leaders accountable as well, by applying the same high principles that they
preach onto others.
Some have noted USA's surprising relative silence on this matter of human rights -- probably because it has
emerged, that in the 70s, Kissinger covered up20
torture and other abuses21
in Chile by the Pinochet Regime.
(but censored) official documents show how much the US has been involved in the coup in the 70s, due to US
interests and fears of communism and in Chile. (See also this news report23
for more information about that.)
The National Security Archives have declassified documents26
on line about the role of the US in Chile.
The Pinochet Prosecution27 from Human Rights
Watch provides updates and reports.
Chile and the End of Pinochet28, by
Marc Cooper from The Nation Magazine, Feb 26, 2001, looks at some of the issues surrounding the Chilean
military's acknowledgment of dumping political opponents into the sea during the Pinochet dictatorship.