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Pinochet Case a Milestone
Chile Urged to Prosecute Ex-Dictator
(New York, March 2, 2000) -- Human Rights Watch said today that the arrest of Augusto Pinochet represented a permanent advance in the cause of human rights, despite the decision by British Home Secretary Jack Straw to allow him to return to Chile. The group also called on the Chilean parliament to block a proposed constitutional reform that would give permanent immunity from prosecution to all former heads of state.


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"It's a terrible disappointment for Pinochet's thousands of victims that he will not face trial in Spain. But the very fact that he was arrested, and that his claim of immunity was rejected, has already changed the calculus of dictators around the world. The Pinochet case signified the beginning of the end of their impunity."

Reed Brody
Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch

"It's a terrible disappointment for Pinochet's thousands of victims that he will not face trial in Spain," said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. "But the very fact that he was arrested, and that his claim of immunity was rejected, has already changed the calculus of dictators around the world. The Pinochet case signified the beginning of the end of their impunity."

Human Rights Watch noted that the "Pinochet Precedent" was already taking root in other countries. It praised the decision on February 3 by a Senegalese judge to indict the former Chadian dictator Hissein Habre on torture charges. "A sea change is underway in how the world deals with the worst abuses," said Brody.

The Pinochet case reaffirmed the principle that human rights atrocities are subject to "universal jurisdiction" and can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. Two rulings by the House of Lords found that Pinochet was not immune from prosecution even though he was head of state at the time the crimes were committed.

Human Rights Watch also called attention to a proposed constitutional reform in Chile that would give permanent immunity to all former heads of state. The Chilean parliament is expected to pass the new measure by the end of March.

"This law would set a terrible precedent," said Josť Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "Not only would it make it harder to bring Pinochet to justice, it would weaken the institution of democracy in Chile."

Gen. Pinochet arranged "senator-for-life" status for himself when he left power in 1990, thereby ensuring his immunity from prosecution. But since the former dictator was arrested in London, the Chilean judiciary has proved more willing to consider lawsuits against him.

If Pinochet were not exempted from prosecution on the grounds of ill health on his return, Chilean lawyers and human rights activists had hoped to sue for the outright revocation of his immunity. The proposed reform would vastly complicate that undertaking. Chile's new law would give its public officials the most extensive immunity on the continent.

On January 19, with the country in the midst of its annual summer holidays, President Eduardo Frei gave the proposal "high urgency" status, and the Chamber of Deputies approved it without modification on January 25. The bill must be approved by both chambers of parliament, meeting in plenary, within sixty days. It could therefore become law in the last week of March.

For Further Information, Contact:
In New York, Reed Brody, +1 212 216-1206 (English, Spanish, French)
In London, Wilder Tayler, +44 171 713 1995 (Spanish, English)
In London, Kenneth Roth, + 44 171 713 1995 (English, French)
In Washington, Josť Miguel Vivanco, + 1 202-612-4330 (Spanish, English)
In Brussels, Jean-Paul Marthoz, +32 2-736 7838 (French, Spanish, English)
In Santiago, Sebastian Brett, +562-226-7714 (Spanish, English)


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