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Re-instatement of Pinochet Charges Hailed

(New York) - Human Rights Watch hailed today's indictment of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as a historic contribution to international justice. The defendant, charged with kidnaping and murder by investigating judge Juan Guzman, now faces arrest, fingerprinting, and other police procedures. "Pinochet's indictment shows that no one is above the law in Chile," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division. "It attests to the strength of Chilean democracy, and it's a tremendous advance for justice everywhere."  
 
Pinochet's lawyers are expected to challenge the charges today before the summer panel of the Santiago Appeals Court. They have been pressing for the case to be closed because of Pinochet's medical condition (the general, who is 85, suffers from ailments including diabetes and the after-effects of minor strokes). Pinochet underwent medical tests from January 10-12, which reportedly found that he suffered from a degree of mental impairment. Under Chilean law, however, a defendant must be found insane to escape prosecution.  
 
Judge Juan Guzman had previously charged Pinochet with murder and kidnapping on December 1, 2000. The Santiago Appeals Court threw out the charges on the grounds that the judge had failed to question Pinochet, a requirement under Chilean law before a person may be charged with a criminal offense, and the Supreme Court confirmed the ruling. Judge Guzman pressed on with the case, finally questioning Pinochet at his Santiago home on January 23.  
 
The Chilean courts have had to overcome numerous obstacles left in place by the military government to ensure that it would never be held responsible for human rights atrocities committed after the 1973 coup. In January 1998, when Judge Guzman opened his investigation, few observers gave him any chance of success as, among other things, an amnesty law prevented prosecutions for crimes committed between 1973 and 1978.  
 
In 1999, however, the courts ruled that "disappearances" must be considered ongoing crimes and were therefore not subject to the law. The Chilean Supreme Court's August 2000 decision confirming the removal of Pinochet's parliamentary immunity gave further support to this doctrine.  
 
"The tenacity with which Judge Guzman has pursued the case is admirable," said Vivanco. "Moreover, he has made every effort to be fair. No one can question the respect the courts have shown for the rights of the defendant in this case."  

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