Pinochet Ruling


A serious blow to Human Rights

The decision yesterday of the British High Court that General Augusto Pinochet enjoys immunity for the acts committed while he was head of state in Chile is a major setback to the fight against impunity for grave violations of human rights.

Montreal, October 29th, 1998 The decision yesterday of the British High Court that General Augusto Pinochet enjoys immunity for the acts committed while he was head of state in Chile is a major setback to the fight against impunity for grave violations of human rights.

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD) disagrees with the British High Court that dictators cannot be prosecuted by foreign states for crimes committed while in power. The murders and “disappearances” of thousands of people during the Pinochet dictatorship do not constitute legitimate acts committed in an “official capacity” for which there can be immunity.

“This is an important test of international law,” said Warren Allmand, President of the International Centre. “If General Pinochet is successful in shielding himself from international accountability for his crimes, it will allow tyrants to travel the world freely flaunting international law.”

Under the international law principle of universal jurisdiction, Spanish courts have the right to prosecute General Pinochet for charges of genocide, terrorism and torture. According to this principle which dates back to the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, any state has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute certain crimes which are so heinous as to constitute a concern to the international community as a whole. Various international treaties including the Convention against Torture, the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions oblige States to take measures to arrest, extradite and punish persons guilty of grave violations of human rights. The crimes of genocide and torture, for which General Pinochet is charged, fall within these types of crimes.

Mr. Allmand stressed that the British High Court decision runs counter to recent developments such as the adoption of the International Criminal Court, which recognizes that leaders must be held accountable for crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed under their authority. A major rationale for the creation of this tribunal is to encourage states to investigate and prosecute these crimes at home.

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development is an independent and non-partisan Canadian institution with an international mandate, working with citizens and governments here and around the world to promote human rights and democratic development through dialogue, strategic interventions, programmes, advocacy and public education.