Chile's Top Court Opens Hearings on Whether to Resume Pinochet Trial

16 မေလ 2002
Article

Chile's top court opened hearings on whether the trial of Gen. Augusto Pinochet on human rights charges should be reopened in spite of the former dictator's deteriorated health.

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Associated Press

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Santiago, Chile - Chile's top court on Thursday opened hearings on whether the trial of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (news - web sites) on human rights charges should be reopened in spite of the former dictator's deteriorated health. Unlike previous court procedures involving Pinochet, Thursday's hearing attracted only a small group of people, relatives of victims of abuses during his 1973-90 rule. The hearings are expected to last for several weeks.

The Santiago Court of Appeals suspended the trial in July last year after court-appointed doctors said Pinochet, 86, is physically and mentally unfit to stand trial. The medical report said Pinochet suffers from mild dementia, in addition to his physical problems, which include diabetes and arthritis. He also carries a pacemaker and has suffered three mild strokes since 1998.

Addressing the court Thursday, prosecution lawyer Eduardo Contreras asked that Pinochet undergo new medical tests, claiming his condition does not really prevent him from facing trial. "He is not crazy or demented," Contreras said. Chilean law exempts from penal responsibility only those pronounced mad or demented. But Pinochet's lawyers succeeded in convincing the court that the retired general's deteriorated health prevents him from properly organizing his defense, depriving him of his constitutional right to a just trial.

Last August, however the Supreme Court agreed to consider a request by prosecutors that the case be reopened. The request was based mainly on a technicality. The prosecutors claimed the lower court ruling was based at least in part on a reform of Chile's penal code that is being gradually implemented throughout the country, but is not in effect in Santiago yet. "This situation makes the ruling favoring Pinochet unconstitutional," said Contreras, the only lawyer heard Thursday by the Court, which postponed the hearings until next week.

Pinochet's chief defense lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, told reporters that prospects for a resumption of the trial are close to nil. "It is not for the Supreme Court now to rule on facts that have already been fully proved in the legal process, such as Gen. Pinochet's medical condition," Rodriguez said. He said the top court "can only rule on whether judicial mistakes have been made."

Pinochet faces charges of 18 kidnappings and 57 homicides in the "Caravan of Death," a military squad that executed 75 political prisoners shortly after he seized power in 1973. Pinochet was not required to appear in court Thursday. He was reportedly staying at his heavily guarded countryside residence near Santiago.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press