Chilean judge indicts Pinochet

December 13, 2004

Augusto Pinochet was president of Chile from 1974 to 1990 Chile’s former President Augusto Pinochet [pictured] has been placed under house arrest on human rights charges. The former military ruler was indicted over the disappearance of nine opposition activists and the killing of one of them during his 17-year regime.

The order was issued by Judge Juan Guzman, who has been investigating Gen Pinochet for abuses committed between 1973 and 1990.

The judge also ruled that the general was mentally fit to stand trial.

Judge Guzman said he made his decision after studying an interview that Gen Pinochet gave to a Miami TV channel in November 2003.

He said that the interview, in which the general gave apparently lucid answers to questions, was “one of the elements taken into consideration” in his ruling.

‘Historic’ decision

Monday’s ruling was welcomed by human rights groups in Chile.

Viviana Diaz, president of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Persons, told the Associated Press news agency that it was “a historic decision that must be celebrated by all democrats”.

She added: “This is great news for all those Chileans who do not accept impunity in the violations of human rights.”

The general was indicted on charges in connection with Operation Condor – a conspiracy by six South American regimes in the 1970s to hunt down and kill their left-wing opponents.

It is not the only case outstanding against him.

Earlier this month, a court ruled that he could face charges over the murder of his predecessor as army chief, Gen Carlos Prats, who died in a car bomb attack in Buenos Aires in 1974.

Gen Pinochet, 89, also faces tax fraud charges and a money-laundering investigation.

Health arguments

Judge Guzman has tried to bring the general to trial for human rights abuses before.

In December 2000, the judge formally charged Gen Pinochet with kidnapping in connection with the Caravan of Death case, accusing him of responsibility for the deaths of more than 70 political prisoners.

The following year an appeal court found that he was too unwell to be tried.

But Judge Guzman says that Gen Pinochet is mentally fit to stand trial, despite medical examinations by doctors that led to conflicting conclusions.

A court-appointed doctor diagnosed him with “moderate dementia,” while a doctor acting for Gen Pinochet’s defence said his tests showed the former president’s health had deteriorated recently and he ought to be spared a trial.

However, a doctor acting for the relatives of victims of Operation Condor said Gen Pinochet was mentally fit enough to face trial.

Judge Guzman also questioned Gen Pinochet about the Operation Condor allegations in September.

The general denied all knowledge of the operation, saying that it was probably run by “mid-level officials.”

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