Conflict & Justice

Pinochet case and human rights today

PK says Pinochet's arrest set in motion a cascade of events in the international human rights movement: it became an international symbol of what was possible for victims throughout Latin America and around the world. Pinochet was a dictator who had acted with total impunity and believed he had immunity from prosecution and suddenly he was detained. (Where are we seeing the impact of his arrest?) International cases such as the case in Spain against three former Guatemalan dictators, the ongoing case of Charles Taylor at the Hague, Milosevic in front of the Hague as well, and trans-national cases such as the Italian indictments of 139 military officials for various crimes related to torture and murder. (In the Pinochet case, the Spanish judge used his authority to order the arrest for crimes committed mostly in Chile and mostly against Chileans. And he could do this because of something called the rule of universal jurisdiction, or crimes of international concern. Had this ever been evoked before?) It had never been applied as it was with Pinochet, where one country asked another to hold and extradite a leader. (Pinochet was never sentenced for his crimes, but what did his arrest set in motion in Chile?) Chile went from being a pariah state known for its human rights violations where it is today, known for prosecuting human rights violators and putting even its top secret police officials in prison. Chile elected a victim of Pinochet as its president. This helps close the wounds of a country like Chile and it allows countries to turn the page on a dark chapter of their history and move forward, and it sets a precedent for other countries as well. (Some legal activists argue the universal jurisdiction principal has implications for Bush.) This is tough for Americans to think of, but Pinochet was arrested for things not dissimilar to the rendition programs and waterboarding and secret detention sites that this administration has run.

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