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HRW Hails Pinochet Detention as "Victory for the Rule of Law"

(New York) - Human Rights Watch today hailed the detention Friday of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a victory for the rule of law.

Under international law, the crimes of which Pinochet is accused -- sytematic executions and "disappearances" -- are crimes against humanity subject to universal jurisdiction. That means that any nation can bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. The Spanish judge who issued an arrest warrant for Pinochet, and the British law enforcement officials who detained him, were therefore acting well within established international law.The perpetrator of crimes against humanity is like the pirate of the old days: he can be tried wherever he is found," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "Spain and the United Kingdom have now put that longstanding principle into practice."

Human Rights Watch has written to the British Home Secretary calling on him to support Spain's investigation into crimes against humanity committed under Pinochet's command. The organization also wrote to Chilean President Eduardo Frei expressing surprise that Chile was trying to impede justice for Pinochet by claiming that he has diplomatic immunity.

"International law is clear on the question of who is covered by diplomatic immunity," said Vivanco. "It's supposed to facilitate relations between states, not to protect individuals accused of mass murder." Pinochet was in Britain on a private trip, Vivanco noted, and was not on a diplomatic mission.

Chile's official National Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirmed in 1991 that the Chilean government under the authority of Gen. Pinochet executed 1,068 people without trial and "disappeared" another 957 people.

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