Roundtable: Confronting Challenges to the Pinochet Precedent and the Globalisation of Justice

03 February 2004
Article

The 1998 arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London represented one of the most important events in international human rights law since the Nuremberg trials.

Roundtable Confronting Challenges to the Pinochet Precedent and the Globalisation of Justice

Organised by the American University Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and the Institute for Policy Studies
AU Washington College of Law, Washington DC, 3 February 2004

Announcement

The 1998 arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London represented one of the most important events in international human rights law since the Nuremberg trials. The proceedings against Pinochet sparked a chain reaction of cases against human rights abusers around the world. During the past five years, there have been both challenges and advances in the effort to move towards a greater globalization of justice. For example:

  • In August 2003, under intense pressure from the US government, Belgium repealed a landmark universal jurisdiction law that had previously allowed victims to file cases in the Belgian courts for atrocities committed abroad. Despite the repeal, some cases, including the complaint filed against former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, are still proceeding in the Belgian courts
  • Human rights advocates celebrated the June 2003 extradition of Argentine naval officer Ricardo Cavallo from Mexico to stand trial in Spain for crimes of terrorism, torture, and genocide. Oral hearings against Cavallo and fellow Argentine naval officer Adolfo Scilingo are expected to begin in 2004. There have been setbacks in other cases in Spain, though. In a divided vote, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled in February 2003 that it had jurisdiction to try Guatemalan military officers accused of murdering Spanish citizens, but did not have competence for crimes committed against Guatemalan citizens. The Spanish government also refused to pass along Judge Baltasar Garzón's request for the extradition of 48 military officers in Argentina
  • In May 2003, US Attorney General John Ashcroft filed an amicus curie brief asking the courts to effectively nullify the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA), a law that has become a powerful tool allowing non-citizens to sue human rights violators in US courts. There have, however, been new victories in ATCA cases. In October 2003, for example, a Miami jury found Chilean military officer Armando Fernandez Larios liable for torture, crimes against humanity, and extra judicial killing, marking the first US jury verdict for crimes against humanity

Roundtable participants will reflect on recent advances and setbacks in universal jurisdiction cases and will discuss ways that lawyers and human rights advocates can continue to build on the Pinochet Precedent.

Participants:

  • Reed Brody, Special Counsel for Prosecutions, Human Rights Watch
  • Joan Garcés, attorney who led the prosecution team in the Spanish case against Pinochet
  • Prof. Diane Orentlicher (invited), American University Washington College of Law
  • Peter Weiss, Vice President, Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Prof. Richard Wilson, American University Washington College of Law
  • Moderator: Stacie Jonas, Director, Pinochet Case Project, Institute for Policy Studies