(New York)- Human Rights Watch today criticized the U.S. government for failing to support international efforts to extradite Augusto Pinochet to Spain.
It also urged the White House to declassify documents that could assist in the prosecution of the ex-Chilean dictator.
The State Department and the White House told Human Rights Watch they would have no statement on today's decision of the British House of Lords not to grant Pinochet immunity from extradition. A National Security Council spokesman told Reuters that "We saw the decision... and we're reviewing the legal implications, but we've said this is a matter for the courts of the U.K. and Spain to work through."
"The U.S. is trying to pretend that ‘no comment' is a statement of neutrality," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "But all over the world, America's silence is being interpreted as support for Pinochet." Roth noted that many U.S. allies in Western Europe have openly backed the idea of prosecuting Pinochet, while France, Belgium and Switzerland, following the Spanish example, have filed warrants with Scotland Yard for his extradition.
"The House of Lords has recognized that all states have an obligation to bring the perpetrators of the most serious human rights crimes to justice," said Roth. "The U.S. shouldn't try to be an exception to that rule." The NSC spokesman also said "no decisions" have been made on declassifying documents relating to the 1976 car-bombing of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. His colleague, Ronni Moffitt, also died in the attack, which was ordered by the Chilean secret police under Pinochet's command. "The evidence suggests that Pinochet personally approved an act of terrorism just a mile from the White House," said Roth. "The Clinton administration cannot remain aloof from efforts to bring him to justice."
Part of the administration's ambivalence in the Pinochet case stems from concerns that a strong system of international system of justice might be used against Americans, said Roth. But he said the fear was exaggerated, because it is not U.S. policy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes -- the kinds of offenses subject to universal jurisdiction.
"It's time to start looking at international justice from the perspective of the victims," said Roth. "The victims of the past deserve acknowledgement of their suffering. The victims of the future might not be victims at all -- if international law had enough teeth to deter human rights abuse in the first place. The Pinochet decision is a real step toward that goal."