(New York) -- Human Rights Watch today presented a detailed refutation of the idea that Chile is capable of meting out justice to Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Representatives of the Chilean government have been pressuring the British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to release the ex-dictator to his home country to face trial there. U.S. government spokesmen have also suggested that Chile should "wrestle with" justice on its own.
"There's no chance Pinochet will come to trial in Chile," said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York. "That argument is based on fantasy."
Pinochet benefits from a 1978 military self-amnesty for crimes committed through March 1978 -- the period in which the bulk of Pinochet's crimes were committed. Under Chilean law, Pinochet also enjoys immunity from prosecution as "senator-for-life." Even if the amnesty were legislatively nullified and Pinochet's immunity lifted by the courts -- both very unlikely -- Pinochet would probably be tried before his former subordinates in Chile's military tribunals.
Pinochet's political allies, who have a majority in the upper house of parliament, have rebuffed recent efforts to reform the constitution and expedite justice. Last month, the Supreme Court overwhelming rejected the appointment of one of their members as a special civilian judge to hear the complaints against Pinochet.
The Chilean foreign minister, José Miguel Insulza, said in a November 6 interview that, at the very most, the amnesty law would produce "truth and justice, but no punishment . . . I think it is as far as our sociey can go." Prominent Chilean politicians agree with Human Rights Watch that Pinochet will not be prosecuted in Chile. The former president of the Chamber of Deputies, Sen. José Antonio Viera Gallo, said that "the avenue is closed" to discuss a repeal of the amnesty law. Another distinguished member of Congress, Jorge Schaulsohn, said "Everybody knows that in Chile he will never be tried, not now, not any time."
"The Chilean government is trying to portray its judicial system as equal the task of prosecuting Pinochet," said Vivanco. "But this is just a cynical attempt to get Pinochet back home where he will be safe from justice."
Vivanco called on the U.S. government not to give credence to Chilean claims that Pinochet can be impartially tried at home.