Human Rights Watch is calling on the United Nations to dismiss a top general in the U.N. observer forces who was involved in human rights abuses in Chile.

In a letter to Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan, the organization requested the removal of Brigadier-General Sergio Espinoza Davies as head of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) because of his role as a member of secretive "war tribunals" which judged political opponents during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. In one case in October 1973, Espinoza's tribunal sentenced six socialist leaders to death after an irregular proceeding. Four of the men were executed the next morning.

UNMOGIP is deployed on the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir to monitor the observance of the ceasefire of December 1971.

Because of his role in the tribunals, Brigadier-General Espinoza is "unfit to lead a peacekeeping mission that seeks to uphold the international human rights principles upon which the United Nations was founded," said Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch's representative to the United Nations.

For More Information:
Reed Brody 1-212-216-1206 (New York)
José Miguel Vivanco 1-202-371-6592 (Washington, D.C.)
Joanna Weschler 1-212-216-1217 (New York)

A copy of the letter is attached.

September 28, 1998

H.E. Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan
United Nations Headquarters - S-3800
New York, N.Y. 10017

Dear Mr. Secretary General,

We are writing to urge you to remove Chilean Brig.-Gen. Sergio Espinoza Davies as Chief Military Observer of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Reliable public information reveals that Brigadier-General Espinoza participated in grave abuses of human rights during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

Shortly after the September 1973 coup in Chile, Brigadier-General Espinoza, then a captain, served on at least one war tribunal ("consejo de guerra") that sentenced individuals to prison and death after proceedings that violated the most fundamental judicial guarantees of due process.

The Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation found that judges on the war tribunals had an "unsatisfactory level of ... knowledge of basic principles of law" and that "most of them were not lawyers." After a careful analysis of several cases involving the war tribunals, the Commission concluded that "in many of the deaths said to have followed from a decision by a war tribunal it should be assumed that no such trial took place and that this was simply a way of explaining an illegal execution." In other words, the tribunals were used as a facade to justify extrajudicial killings. Moreover, in cases in which a process did take place, the Commission found specific "irregularities in both substance and form" leading it to "regard all the deaths to which they led as human rights violations." [See Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, Vol. 1, Notre Dame, Indiana: Center for Civil & Human Rights, Notre Dame Law School, 1993, pp.139 and 259.]

Brigadier-General Espinoza directly participated in the violations committed by Chile's abusive war tribunals. In one case on October 29, 1973, the Pisagua war tribunal on which Espinoza sat sentenced to death for treason six leaders of the Socialist Party of Iquique. (A copy of the tribunal's judgment is attached.) Four of the condemned men were immediately executed. Their bodies have never been accounted for. According to the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, in addition to the irregularities which pervaded all war tribunals, the Pisagua death sentences in which Espinoza participated suffered from a particular "lack of legality" because the verdicts were not unanimous (though Espinoza voted for the death penalty), the crimes were not proven, the crimes were alleged to have occurred before a state of war was declared, and because the "sole method of proof cited in the judgment to substantiate the participation of the condemned men in the crimes in question was the accused men's supposed confessions." As the Commission found that "torture was used systematically" in the Pisagua jail in which the prisoners had been held, it considered such proof to be "invalid." The Commission therefore found the trial to have "violated the rules which safeguard the human rights of the accused." [Secretaria de Comunicacion y Cultura, Ministerio Secretaria General de Gobierno. Informe de la Comision Nacional de Verdad y Reconciliacion, Volumen 1, Tomo 1; impresion en las talleres de La Nacion, Santiago de Chile, marzo de 1991. pp. 254-256. HRW translation of Spanish original.]

A member of this tribunal who served with Espinoza, Juan Enrique Sinn Bruno, recently alleged that the tribunal, acting on superior orders, had changed its original sentence from ten years in prison to death.

Because of the secrecy of proceedings, the extent of Espinoza's participation in other war tribunals remains unclear.

Human Rights Watch believes that Brigadier-General Espinoza's documented participation in the worst human rights abuses in his home country renders him unfit to lead a peacekeeping mission that seeks to uphold the international human rights principles upon which the United Nations was founded. We respectfully urge you to remove him from his position and appoint a new head of the peacekeeping mission with the appropriate credentials.

We greatly appreciate your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Joanna Weschler
UN Representative

José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas Division