The Honourable Jack Straw
Secretary of State for the Home Department
50 Queen Anne's Gate
London SW1H 9AT
Dear Home Secretary:
We write concerning the requested extradition of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. As we did in our letter of October 19, Human Rights Watch again wishes to commend the United Kingdom for allowing the arrest of General Pinochet on the Spanish warrant. We have followed the House of Lords proceedings carefully, submitting legal briefs to the Law Lords and attending each court session. Should the Lords reverse the High Court decision that invalidated the arrest, we respectfully urge you to take the principled actions necessary to ensure that General Pinochet is extradited to Spain.
We understand that the Extradition Act grants you discretion to decline extradition, for example where extradition would, having regard to all the circumstances, be "unjust or oppressive." The reasonable exercise of your discretion requires that you take into account the gravity of General Pinochet's offenses, the impunity which General Pinochet would continue to enjoy on returning to Chile, and the United Kingdom's obligations under international law.
The systematic human rights violations committed under General Pinochet's command amount to crimes against humanity. Official Chilean investigations have confirmed that more than 3,100 people were victims of extrajudicial execution or "disappearance." Thousands of others were victims of torture, arbitrary detention, forced exile, or other abuses. Indeed, torture of political detainees in clandestine detention centers was systematic throughout the Pinochet regime, often overseen by doctors expert in keeping victims barely alive.
International law - as well as the prevention of future atrocities - demands the prosecution of those responsible for such crimes.
In April 1978, however, the Chilean military granted itself a general amnesty from prosecution and punishment for its crimes. The self-amnesty covers the period when most of the worst abuses took place, from the coup in September 1973 to March 1978. The Chilean Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the measure's constitutionality. The Chilean government has touted one recent Supreme Court decision that one investigation of alleged "war crimes" committed by the military before 1978 could proceed. But in the Chilean legal system, this single case does not establish any precedent for subsequent legal action. Indeed, in a later case, the Supreme Court again upheld the amnesty above international human rights law.
Similarly, General Pinochet will not be indicted, prosecuted or punished in Chile for human rights crimes committed after the period covered by the self-amnesty. As "senator-for-life," a bargain for leaving office in 1990, Pinochet is protected from such prosecutions. Theoretically, the Chilean Supreme Court could strip him of this immunity, if it found him guilty of criminal acts. But since the military left office in 1990, the court has never deprived a member of congress of immunity. In any case, any indictment of General Pinochet in Chile would surely lead military tribunals to claim jurisdiction over the matter, another guarantee that he will never face justice. In past civilian-military conflicts over jurisdiction, Chile's Supreme Court has readily acceded to such demands from the military. Military courts are staffed by current and former military officers whom Pinochet either promoted or appointed.
Britain is also under an international obligation to try or extradite persons accused of the horrible crimes at issue here. This obligation is set forth, inter alia, in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the United Kingdom is a party. Torture is one of the charges on which General Pinochet's extradition is sought. As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Kingdom also has an obligation to ensure access to justice for the victims of General Pinochet's crimes. Several European countries have sent the unequivocal message that they believe General Pinochet should stand trial. Spain, France and Switzerland have all requested his extradition. Returning the general to Chile would deprive his victims in these countries of their right to a remedy.
General Pinochet's lawyers argued in the House of Lords that Britain should defer to the "arrangement" reached in Chile which included the military's self-amnesty. We strongly believe, however, that the international community has a greater long-term interest in making it clear to those who would use violence to seize power that they face punishment if they embark on crimes against humanity. There is little chance of preventing such terrible crimes if their authors know that at the end of the day they can bargain for an amnesty and escape punishment.
Given the gravity of General Pinochet's offenses, the impunity he enjoys in Chile and the United Kingdom's obligations under international law, we respectfully submit that there are no circumstances by which the extradition of Pinochet to Spain could reasonably be considered either "unjust or oppressive."
cc. The Honourable Robin Cook