Pinochet Decision: An important legal precedent


The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development applauds the ruling of the British House of Lords that General Augusto Pinochet does not have immunity for crimes against humanity.

Montreal, March 24, 1999 The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development applauds the ruling of the British House of Lords that General Augusto Pinochet does not have immunity for crimes against humanity.

“The decision against Pinochet is a milestone in the fight against impunity worldwide. It sends a warning to leaders who commit such crimes that when they leave their own countries to hide, they may still be arrested and prosecuted for their crimes,” today said Warren Allmand, President of the International Centre.

He also called on the Canadian government to begin criminal proceedings against General Pinochet. A Montreal nun who was a victim of torture in Chile in 1973 has asked Canadian authorities to charge and prosecute General Pinochet for this crime. The International Centre supports the Quebec-based coalition that has collected more than 15,000 signatures in a petition requesting legal action against General Pinochet in Canada.

The International Centre also called on the Canadian government to amend current legislation to make clear that heads of state, past or present, cannot hide behind their offices to avoid answering for their crimes. These amendments would ensure that prosecution of those who commit crimes against humanity, regardless of where they occur. Canadian law is unclear whether heads of state have immunity from prosecution within Canada for crimes against humanity.

The House of Lords decision is consistent with recent efforts to create an International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC Statute was adopted last summer in Rome states there shall be no immunity for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. The ICC Statute explicitly states that holding an official position does not exempt an individual from criminal responsibility for such crimes.

The ICC Statute was signed by 77 states, including Britain (November 30, 1998); Spain (July 18, 1998); Chile (September 11, 1998) and Canada (December 11, 1998.) However 60 States must ratify the Statute and to date, only one country, Senegal, has done so.

The International Centre has been at the forefront of the international campaign for a strong International Criminal Court and is now working with partners to lobby states for quick ratification of the Statute.