(New York) - Human Rights Watch today urged the United States government to publicly support and promote the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain.

In a letter to President Bill Clinton, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth called on the U.S. government to transfer to Spanish judges all evidence it has collected on Pinochet's crimes. Spanish authorities have requested that the United States share, among other evidence, the results of its investigation into the involvement of Chilean security forces in the assassination of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. Press reports suggest that the American government has not complied fully with Spain's request.

An American citizen, Ronni Moffitt, was also killed when a bomb exploded under Letelier's car on September 21, 1976. At least two other Americans were executed by government agents after the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, according to a 1991 report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation.

"The U.S. government can't sit on the sidelines in this case," said Roth. "Pinochet is wanted for crimes against American citizens, and even crimes on American soil. Washington needs to speak out in favor of prosecuting this tyrant."

Since Pinochet's arrest on October 16 in London, the U.S. government has declined to speak publicly about the case, calling such comment "inappropriate."

Roth urged Clinton to contact the British and Spanish authorities to help accelerate the handover of Pinochet. Fears of disrupting relations with Chile, which has opposed the extradition, should not guide U.S. policy in this important international legal matter, Roth said.

Roth noted that the U.S. took a strong stand earlier this year in recommending that the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot be handed over to courts in the West, possibly Canada. But the jurisdictional basis for Spain to proceed against Pinochet, whose regime executed Spanish citizens, is potentially much stronger than the case against Pol Pot, who did not kill any Canadians, Roth added.

Human Rights Watch's letter also suggested that by cooperating in the Pinochet case, the United States could help to repair the damage done to its image as a human rights leader at the negotiations for an international criminal court this summer in Rome. The United States was one of only seven nations that voted against the treaty to establish the court, which will investigate and prosecute future cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. One hundred and twenty nations voted for the treaty. "One day, we hope, an international criminal court will help deter tyrants like Pinochet from committing their crimes in the first place," said Roth. "Until that day comes, the U.S. needs to throw its public support behind this extradition. Washington has to get back on the right side of issues of international justice."