Case against Pinochet can proceed

Fiona Ortiz
Journal of International Banking Law and Regulation, Forthcoming
December 20, 2004

Santiago: Murder charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in a major human rights case can proceed, an appeals court has said in an unprecedented ruling immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Santiago Appeals Court denied a defence motion filed last week seeking to stop the case against Pinochet, who remained hospitalized after suffering a mild stroke on Saturday.

Critics dismissed the hospitalization of the 89-year-old retired general as part of his defence strategy to evade charges, filed earlier this month, of murder and kidnapping in the deaths and disappearances of 10 leftists in the 1970s.

“The injunction was rejected by three votes to zero, that means, unanimously,” Juan Escobar, one of the three judges on the appeals court, told reporters on Monday.

The only previous time a human rights case against Pinochet reached this stage in Chile’s court system, the appeals court threw out the charges when it ruled in 2001 that his mild dementia made him too ill to stand trial. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 2002.

Many Chileans still admire Pinochet for what they see as his fight against Communism and for his economic policies, but his support has waned in the last two years.

Last year he undermined his defence strategy of weak mental health by giving a lucid interview to a Miami television station. This year reports surfaced that he stashed millions of dollars in secret off-shore accounts and the courts are now investigating accusations he evaded taxes.

More recently, even Pinochet supporters were shocked by a government report that more than 27,000 people were tortured by the military and the secret police during his 1973-1990 regime.

defence attorney Pablo Rodriguez told reporters that Monday’s ruling was a violation of Pinochet’s human rights and of his constitutional right to due process.

The defence team filed an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court, which means that a lower court’s order for Pinochet to be placed under house arrest remains in limbo.

Pinochet’s attorneys say he is too ill to stand trial in this case, which was filed this month, and others relating to some of the more than 3,000 deaths in political violence during his rule.

Human rights attorneys criticized Pinochet’s hospitalization as strategic.

“Today it has been shown that we are correct. . . . Pinochet is in perfect condition to withstand a criminal trial and we are sure he’ll also be able to endure his sentence,” human rights attorney Eduardo Contreras told reporters at the Santiago court house.

In seeking the injunction, the defence had argued that the charges amounted to persecution.

Pinochet’s secret police violently repressed leftists and dissidents after the 1973 military coup that was encouraged by the United States and that launched the general to power.

Pinochet, who has almost no political relevance after 15 years of centre-left democratic leaders in Chile, has been stripped of immunity from trial three times since 2000 when a flood of human rights cases entered the Chilean courts.

But so far his defence team has kept him from being tried.

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