(New York) - Human Rights Watch today praised the decision by the Chilean Supreme Court to order Gen. Augusto Pinochet to undergo questioning.
The court ordered Judge Juan Guzmán to interview Gen. Augusto Pinochet within twenty days about his responsibility for homicides and kidnappings committed after the 1973 military coup. The decision allows Judge Guzmán to reinstate charges against Pinochet once this preliminary step has been taken. Significantly, the court stated that the interview must be carried out regardless of whether medical tests have been done to establish whether the 85-year-old former Chilean dictator is mentally capable of standing trial.
The Supreme Court upheld last week's Appeals Court ruling that revoked the indictment of General Pinochet. In a 4-1 vote, it agreed with the appellate court that Judge Guzmán's December 1 indictment was invalid because the judge failed to question the accused.
"While we regret that the indictment was overturned, we believe that overall this is a fair decision," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division. "The Supreme Court has thrown out the indictment on technical grounds. Yet the court has clearly left the door open for a new indictment. This means that justice can still be done in Chile."
Human Rights Watch expressed concern, however, at Tuesday's Appeals Court decision confirming that the medical tests (to be performed by civilian experts attached to the Medical Legal Service and the University of Chile) would be carried out in Santiago's Military Hospital. The Military Hospital has been frequently used in the past as a place of refuge for military officers undergoing prosecution for human rights violations. Pinochet's lawyers and medical advisers have met on several occasions in the hospital to plan his defense strategy.
"It is highly unfortunate that both Judge Guzmán and the Appeals Court have deemed the Military Hospital a suitable place to carry out these crucial tests," said Vivanco. "Even if the hospital plays fair, a decision in favor of Pinochet could be tainted by the public perception of bias, and justice would not be seen to have been done."