Pinochet Decision Welcomed, Condemned
July 7, 2008
London (CNSNews.com) - Supporters of former Chilean military ruler General Augusto Pinochet Wednesday welcomed the British government's announcement that he was unfit to be extradited to stand trial, while human rights advocates said they were appalled.
Both camps were stunned by Tuesday's unscheduled late-night statement by Home Secretary Jack Straw, who said experts who conducted medical tests a week ago came to the "unequivocal and unanimous" conclusion that Pinochet was "at present unfit to stand trial, and that no change to that position can be expected."
Pinochet, 84, has been under house arrest in Britain for 15 months while fighting an extradition request from a Spanish judge who wants to try him for torture during the latter part of his 1973-1990 rule.
Straw said a final decision would await representations from Chile and Spain, as well as from human rights groups that have been involved in the case. But as Chile officially welcomed the decision, and Spain said it would not contest it, Pinochet looks set to fly home after seven days.
"We're delighted by the news, and look forward to a speedy resolution to this long saga," Patrick Robertson, a public relations advisor to Pinochet, told CNSNews.com Wednesday.
He said Pinochet was "encouraged" by the announcement, but warned that "we're not through the woods yet. The thing is to see him on an airplane."
One the general's most high-profile backers, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said she was delighted by the news, while supporters in Chile said the decision would help the cause of reconciliation in the country.
The general has refused to allow Spain or other countries with outstanding extradition requests see the medical report. But an organization working with torture victims says it will demand that the medical records be made available.
"While medical reports often should be confidential, medical evidence here is being used as a form of defense," said Helen Banber, director of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. "They should be available to parties involved in the case."
Banber told CNSNews.com that victims of torture allegedly carried out by the Pinochet regime were looking for public justice, not private revenge.
"Pinochet has shown no recognition, no contrition for the torture and disappearance of young people."
She said Chilean victims of torture were among the foundation's clients. Many were still experiencing long-term physical and psychological effects after suffering from electrical shocks applied to sensitive body parts while suspended above the floor during interrogation.
"Seeing justice done is part of the healing process," Banber said. Seeing Pinochet go unpunished for his alleged deeds will "add to their sense of anguish."
Banber's foundation and Human Rights Watch are two of the organizations Straw said in his statement would be invited to make submissions over the next seven days.
A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told CNSNews.com that while it would like to see Pinochet prosecuted, the organization was not interested in the extradition going ahead at the cost of his right to a fair trial.
Human rights campaigners say more than 3,000 Chileans, many of them opponents of the military regime, died or "disappeared" during the Pinochet era.
Pinochet has denied accusations of human rights abuses, and said the attempt to try him abroad was an affront to Chilean sovereignty.
A British court hearing last October ruled that Pinochet's extradition to Spain to face 34 charges of torture and one of conspiracy to torture should go ahead. His lawyers appealed and a High Court hearing was set for March 20, but a decision by Straw will pre-empt that.
The Labor government agreed to the medical examination at the request of the Chilean government. While under house arrest Pinochet several minor strokes, and his doctors said they have treated him for a dozen complaints, including diabetes, a heart condition and depression.
Should Britain allow Pinochet to go free, the move will relieve the Spanish government of an unwanted headache. Relations between Madrid and Santiago have been strained over the extradition episode and a decision by Straw would give the Spanish an honorable "out."
Reports from Spain said the government would not support any attempt by the judge concerned with the case to appeal the British contention that Pinochet was too ill to stand trial.
"The Spanish government has maintained from the first moment an attitude of absolute respect for judicial decisions taken in relation to this case," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "'It is its intention also to respect the decisions of the British government."