Human Rights Watch called on the House of Lords to follow its own previous ruling in considering the claim of immunity by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Last November, in a decision hailed around the world, a panel of the House of Lords ruled that Pinochet could not claim immunity as a former head of state for acts such as torture and crimes against humanity.
"The House of Lords got it right the first time," said Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. "It's too late now to turn the clock back. Fifty years of international law are backing up the first decision."
Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York, is presenting legal arguments to the House of Lords showing that international law rejects immunity for perpetrators of the gravest human rights crimes, no matter who they are.
The November ruling bolstered a growing international consensus that no one should enjoy impunity for the worst atrocities. Spain, France and Switzerland are also seeking the general's extradition. The decision was nullified however, because of the possible bias of one of the judges.
Fifty years ago, the Nuremberg trials established the principle of no sovereign immunity for crimes against humanity. As recently as December, after the Lords' first ruling, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia reaffirmed that under customary international law, "[t]hose who engage in torture are personally accountable...whatever their official position, even if they are heads of State or government ministers."
The two dissenters on the original Lords panel relied on a broad interpretation of the State Immunity Act to find Pinochet immune. Brody noted, however, that Britain adheres to several treaties and international customary laws that mandate a more restrictive reading of the Act. These include the Genocide Convention and the statutes establishing the various international tribunals, including the new International Criminal Court decided upon last summer in Rome with strong British backing.
At last November's hearing, General Pinochet's lawyers admitted that under their reading of the State Immunity Act, even Adolf Hitler would have been immune from prosecution. "Parliament clearly did not intend to immunize ex-sovereigns from responsibility for these kinds of atrocities," said Brody.
The group's brief also directly rebuts the Chilean government's claim that Pinochet could be tried in Chile. "There is no chance that Pinochet would be prosecuted in Chile," said Brody. "To suggest otherwise is to mislead the court."