(New York, February 25, 2003) - The indictment of five Chilean secret agents allegedly responsible for the assassination of former army commander Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife Sofía Cuthbert in Buenos Aires almost thirty years ago is an important victory for justice, Human Rights Watch said today.
For years, the Chilean courts did nothing to help their Argentine counterparts bring to justice those responsible for this terrible crime, " said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "Now the Chilean authorities have shown they are willing to do the job themselves."
In indictments issued today, Special Investigating Judge Alejandro Solís charged Manuel Contreras, former head of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), his associate Pedro Espinoza, and three lower-ranking agents, Raúl Iturriaga, Jorge Iturriaga and José Octavio Zara, with criminal conspiracy and aggravated homicide. He ordered them arrested at once.
General Prats and his wife were killed by a car bomb in Buenos Aires on September 30, 1974. For many years, Argentine judge María Servini de Cubría tried without success to have former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet extradited to Argentina to stand trial for ordering the assassination.
In October 2002, the Santiago Appeals Court refused to strip Pinochet of his immunity as a former head of state, finding that he was too mentally impaired to undergo trial. That decision made his extradition impossible.
On December 2, the Chilean Supreme Court also rejected a request for the extradition of Manuel Contreras and the four other DINA officers. Yet, in a landmark decision, the court ordered that they be tried in Chile.
As commander-in-chief of the army under Chilean President Salvador Allende, General Prats handed over his command to General Pinochet less than three weeks before Pinochet led the September 11, 1973 military coup against Allende. After the coup, Prats and his wife went into exile in Argentina.