PUBLIC AI Index: EUR 45/26/98
EXTRA 87/98 Impunity / Legal concern 19 November 1998
United KingdomAugusto Pinochet, former President of Chile
Amnesty International is seriously concerned that if Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s
former military ruler, is allowed to return to Chile from the UK, there will
be no opportunity for any court of law to determine his guilt or innocence
with respect to any of the charges of crimes against humanity brought against
him, as listed in the extradition requests from several countries. He would
effectively be granted impunity for crimes against humanity.
Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London, UK, on 16 October 1998 after Spain
issued a judicial request for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity,
relating to cases of torture, "disappearance" and killings during Chile’s
military regime (1973-1990).
On 29 October Britain’s High Court granted Augusto Pinochet immunity from
prosecution under international law on the basis that he is a former head of
state. The House of Lords are currently deliberating on an appeal against this
ruling, and are expected to make their decision in the middle of next week.
If they find that the arrest of Augusto Pinochet was lawful, the final decision
on his extradition rests with the UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw.
Over 3,000 people have been officially recognised by the Chilean authorities
as having died as a result of torture, killed or "disappeared" during the
military regime. Thousands more were systematically tortured or forced into
exile. For over 25 years, relatives of the victims of these human rights
violations have been denied knowing the truth and seeing the perpetrators
brought to justice. The perpetrators of human rights abuses committed in Chile
between 1973 and 1978 were granted virtual impunity as a result of the 1978
Amnesty law and constitutional provisions passed during Augusto Pinochet’s
The scale, gravity and systematic nature of the human rights abuses which took
place in Chile under Augusto Pinochet’s military regime constitute crimes
against humanity under international law. The conditions of responsibility
for these crimes are set down in international law, which is independent of
domestic law. States have a duty under their international obligations to
prosecute and punish these crimes. Under international law, states also have
a full obligation to cooperate in the identification, detention and extradition
of persons responsible for crimes against humanity. The Spanish courts have
jurisdiction to investigate and try Augusto Pinochet, and the UK has the duty
to cooperate by granting his extradition to Spain to be tried.
Since Augusto Pinochet’s arrest, France and Switzerland have also issued
requests for his extradition. These would be rendered ineffective if Britain
decides to grant the former General immunity from prosecution.
Amnesty International believes that the extradition requests and the massive
public response generated by Augusto Pinochet’s arrest illustrates the demand
for those responsible for crimes against humanity to be tried in a court of
law, regardless of their status or position. They should not be enabled to
obtain impunity by invoking immunity or special privileges to avoid legal