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(London) - Human Rights Watch today expressed dismay at being denied the right to question the fairness of the procedure used to assess Augusto Pinochet's fitness to stand trial. It urged British Home Secretary Jack Straw to release to interested parties the medical evaluation of the former Chilean dictator. "Today's ruling is an unfortunate setback to principles of justice," said Wilder Tayler, General Counsel for Human Rights Watch. "Jack Straw carries a huge historical responsibility to reach a decision that is just, and that respects the rights of Pinochet's victims."

Human Rights Watch had joined with five other organizations to seek a judicial review preventing the British home secretary from releasing Pinochet without taking certain basic steps of procedural fairness. The Belgian government had sought a similar review. The High Court in London today denied both requests. Human Rights Watch said that it would consider all available legal options following today's decision.

The international human rights organization had expressed its objections on three main grounds: that the medical examination was cursory and performed by non-specialists; that the results of the medical examination have not been shared with interested parties; that there has been no public hearing on this matter of vital public interest.

The five organizations joining Human Rights Watch in filing this application are Amnesty International, The Redress Trust, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, the Association of the Relatives of Disappeared Persons, and Justicia.

Tayler noted that the growing number of countries who want Pinochet extradited shows that the principle of "universal jurisdiction" is gaining wider acceptance. In addition to Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, and France have also requested Pinochet's extradition.

"Pinochet's crimes were so terrible, he can be prosecuted for them anywhere," said Tayler. "Despite this setback, enormous progress has been made in establishing that principle."

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