(New York) - Human Rights Watch today called on abuse victims to use the "Pinochet precedent" to press criminal actions against exiled or traveling officials who have committed atrocities.
The international rights organization, which took part the Pinochet case and recently spearheaded the case leading to the indictment and house arrest of the former Chadian dictator Hissein Habre in Senegal, today published a 22-page guide: "The Pinochet Precedent: How Victims Can Pursue Human Rights Criminals Abroad." The guide explains the laws and procedures that victims can use to bring their tormentors to justice in other countries.
"Since Pinochet's arrest, we have been in contact with victims' organizations, exploring avenues to bring other leading human rights criminals to justice," said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. "The Habre case was our first success, but there are a lot of other torturers out there."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that under the international law principle of "universal jurisdiction," the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes can be prosecuted in any country. The United Nations Convention against Torture, ratified by 118 countries, requires states to prosecute or extradite torturers who enter their territory.
The group said the decision on February 3 by a Senegalese judge to indict Habre on torture charges showed that a sea change is underway in how the world deals with the worst abuses. For the first time outside of Europe, an official has been indicted for atrocities by the courts of another country.
"The Pinochet case reaffirmed the principles that a country can judge the crime of torture no matter where the acts were committed, and that not even a former head of state has immunity from prosecution," said Brody. "But it also showed us that there are countries like England and Spain where these lofty principles can actually be applied in practice. By arresting Habre, Senegal demonstrated that African countries can also do the right thing."
Brody noted that Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have all initiated or completed prosecutions of persons allegedly involved in abuses in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In addition, in July 1999, French police arrested a Mauritanian colonel, Ely Ould Dah, who was studying at a French military school, on the basis of the U.N.Convention against Torture, when two Mauritanian exiles came forward and identified him as their torturer.
The group noted that the defendant does not have to be in the prosecuting state when the case is begun, depending on the particular laws of each country and the possibility of an eventual extradition. "Remember that Pinochet was at home in Chile when the prosecution against him was initiated in Spain," said Brody.
The organization also called on all states to adopt "implementing legislation," or laws directly providing their courts with jurisdiction over human rights outrages, no matter where they were committed. "There should be no safe haven for people who commit atrocities," said Brody. Many states that have ratified international treaties requiring them to prosecute alleged torturers or war criminals have not incorporated these requirements into national law. Despite the principles of international law, few states have actually given their courts jurisdiction to hear cases of crimes against humanity or genocide committed abroad.
Other states, even with the proper legislation, have lacked the political will to capture mass murderers. In August 1999, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, a top aide to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, was allowed to leave Austria despite a criminal complaint citing his active role in Iraq's genocide against the Kurds.
When former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who has lived in Zimbabwe since 1991, visited South Africa in November 1999 for medical treatment, the authorities failed to respond to calls for his arrest or extradition.
Among other human rights criminals now in exile, the group cited Uganda's Idi Amin currently living in Saudi Arabia, Milton Obote, also of Uganda, whois now in Zambia, Haiti's Raul Cedras and Philippe Biamby in Panama, Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner in Brazil and Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, who lives in New York City.
"Pinochet was the first former head of state to be arrested by another country for human rights crimes. Habre has now become the second," said Brody. "Current and future leaders are on notice: If they try to getaway with murder and torture, they could be brought to justice."