Pinochet's Extradition in Spanish Head's Hands

20 အောက်တိုဘာလ 1998

Whether former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is extradited to Spain will depend in the final analysis on a political decision by Spain's centre-right head of government, Jose Maria Aznar, say legal experts.

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Interpress Service

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Whether former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is extradited to Spain will depend in the final analysis on a political decision by Spain's centre-right head of government, Jose Maria Aznar, say legal experts.

Pinochet, who stepped down as army chief and was sworn in as senator-for-life in March, was Friday put under preventive detention in London on the order of British judge Nicholas Evans. The former dictator was in London for minor surgery on a slipped disc. The arrest of the man who governed Chile with an iron fist from September 1973 to March 1990 arose from legal charges brought against Pinochet in Spain in 1996 for genocide and international terrorism.

Baltasar Garzón, one of two Spanish magistrates who had requested Pinochet's arrest, plans to interrogate him in London, once authorised to do so by British authorities. He will present a request for Pinochet's extradition to Spain, where the former dictator would be forced to answer for the disappearance and murder of some 80 Spanish nationals in Chile. An estimated 3,000 people were "disappeared" and killed during the dictatorship. Pinochet would also be questioned in connection with Operation Condor, under which the dictatorships in the Southern Cone of the Americas cracked down on leftists and other opponents of their regimes in a coordinated effort in the 1970s.

In Chile, the right, armed forces and designated senators representing the military argue that Pinochet's arrest is "a state affair", and that Britain and Spain have violated Chilean sovereignty. The Chilean government of President Eduardo Frei and Pinochet's supporters allege that the elderly general - who turns 83 next month - enjoys diplomatic immunity due to the official passport he carries as senator-for-life.

But in a judicial decree issued Monday, Garzón stated that the crimes in connection with which the retired general is accused "have no statute of limitations, their perpetrators cannot enjoy diplomatic immunity, nor can they obtain refugee status or be granted political asylum".

Lawyer Alejandro Teitelbaum, the representative of the American Association of Jurists before the United Nations in Geneva, said several international pacts, such as the Convention Against Torture, oblige signatory states to try the alleged perpetrators of severe human rights abuses or extradite them. Teitelbaum said Britain, as a signatory to that Convention, must either try Pinochet or put him under Spanish jurisdiction as demanded by Garzón. He explained that the charges brought in Spain against Pinochet - and against members of the military juntas which ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 - were based on the concept of "universal jurisdiction". The lawyer said the outcome of the Pinochet case depended on Spain's government, which must decide whether or not to formally back the extradition request to be issued this week by Garzón. In a strictly legal sense, the question is a bilateral problem between Spain and Britain, which will have to respond to Garzón's extradition request. "The United Nations can do nothing about the case for the time being", Teitelbaum said, pointing out that the leading role must be played by international conventions and treaties on human rights and crimes against humanity.

But specialised UN bodies such as the Committee Against Torture or the Human Rights Committee could eventually monitor the extent to which the two countries complied with their international obligations. " The UN could make an evaluation in the future, but not right now", he added.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday in Orlando, Florida that the Pinochet case demonstrated that international humanitarian law is gaining momentum, and that there are fewer and fewer hiding-places for suspects.

Teitelbaum said that what was occurring was "useful", because "the fight against impunity consists above all of keeping the memory alive". The punishment of the individual perpetrators nearly fades into the background, he added, stressing that the important thing is for examples to be set.

Spanish chief prosecutor Eduardo Fungairiño said the Aznar administration had the authority to oppose Pinochet's extradition. It could also simply fail to back Garzón'.s extradition bid and let the 40-day timeframe Britain must respect while awaiting the request pass by - in which case the British government would have to release Pinochet. But law professor Enrique Gimbernat told IPS in Spain that if the government failed to issue an extradition request, it would be guilty of subverting the course of justice. Aznar left that possibility open on Tuesday when he said he would wait for the outcome of the extradition proceedings, adding that "perhaps the government will not even have to say anything". That would occur if a legal authority higher than Garzón overruled his arrest warrant and extradition request.

The Chilean right's reaction to the arrest, meanwhile, reconfirmed the former dictator's unquestioned leadership of that sector, making a recent political rift look like an easily forgotten lovers' tiff. "It is a love without limits", commented university student Carla Rojas in Santiago, referring to the relationship between the Chilean right and Pinochet, recalling the Spanish title of the 1960s tragic romance film West Side Story.

"Hysterical" was socialist Deputy Juan Pablo Letelier's description of the protests by the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) and National Renovation Party (PRN) and Pinochet's followers against the former dictator's arrest. The right-wing 'hysteria' was also felt by the British and Spanish embassies in the Santiago municipalities of Providencia and Las Condes, both headed by UDI mayors. The mayor of Las Condes is a strong contender for the UDI presidential nomination for next year's elections, while the mayor of Providencia, retired colonel Cristian Labbe, served as a deputy minister during the Pinochet de facto military regime. Lavin and Labbe decided to eliminate the parking spaces reserved for the Spanish and British embassies, and cancelled the embassies' garbage collection services.

Top UDI and PRN officials flew to Madrid, London and other European capitals on Sunday to make contacts with governments, conservative politicians and jurists. The right-wing parties say their position is based on principles that go beyond Pinochet, and that they are seeking to prevent a dangerous precedent from being set, by which powerful states could violate the diplomatic immunity of small nations. "If this is accepted, if a trial against Fidel Castro were opened in the United States tomorrow, he could be arrested if he travelled to a United Nations meeting in New York", warned lawyer and former PRN senator Miguel Otero.

But beyond the heated legal debate in Spain, London and Chile on diplomatic immunity, impunity for those accused of crimes against humanity and the universal character of the defence of human rights, the episode has marked a return to friendly relations between the Chilean right and Pinochet.

Today's scenario would have been hard to imagine two weeks ago, when the UDI and the PRN angrily turned their back on their leader, who still has no clear successor and has been pushing for the right to back Andres Zaldivar of Frei's co-governing Christian Democratic party in next year's presidential elections. Pinochet and his closest cronies see Zaldivar, the president of the Senate, as the best bid to check the slated election triumph of socialist Ricardo Lagos, by keeping him from becoming the ruling coalition's candidate. But the quarrel has now been overshadowed by an event that took everyone by surprise, and the right has joined forces in defence of its elderly leader.

Copyright 1998 InterPress Service