(London) - Human Rights Watch hailed the House of Lords' decision to reject immunity for Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

"This is a great day of victory for Pinochet's thousands of victims," said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York. "The wheels of justice are turning at last."

Brody, who attended all sessions of the House of Lords deliberations, said that the case's ramifications extend far beyond Chile. "It's a wake-up call to tyrants around the world who think about embarking on mass murder," said Brody. "They might not get away with it the next time."

At the same time, the organization called on British Home Secretary Jack Straw not to nullify the Law Lords' decision by setting Pinochet free. The Chilean government has been pressing London to release Pinochet on "humanitarian grounds" if the Lords rule against him.

In a November 16 letter to Straw, Human Rights Watch noted that while the Extradition Act grants the Secretary discretionary powers, he must exercise them "reasonably." It would be unreasonable, the letter argued, to ignore "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." In particular, the United Nations Committee against Torture ruled last week that Britain was bound either to try Pinochet for torture in the U.K. or to extradite him to a country that would. Spain, France and Switzerland are seeking to extradite Pinochet, and other countries are preparing such requests.

"Tony Blair wants to have an ‘ethical foreign policy'," said Brody. "This is the test. Pinochet should be extradited to Spain where he can be judged for his terrible crimes." Brody lauded the British government's strong stand on matters of international justice such as the war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the new international criminal court.

"It would be an insult to the memory of Pinochet's thousands of victims if Britain let him escape justice," said Brody.