Britain Decides to Let the Pinochet Extradition Case Proceed
By WARREN HOGE
LONDON -- Britain
gave an official go-ahead Thursday to
extradition proceedings against Gen. Augusto Pinochet, dashing his
hopes of being freed to return to Chile and setting the stage for months of
legal maneuvering over the request by Spain to try him on charges of
crimes against humanity.
Jack Straw said he was letting the case proceed despite
a decision last month by the House of Lords that drastically reduced the
charges against the former Chilean dictator.
Straw said the
remaining allegations of torture and conspiracy to torture
satisfied the European Convention on Extradition and imposed an
obligation on Britain to permit the Spanish request to go before British
courts. A hearing was set for April 30.
of the Chilean Reconciliation Movement assailed the
decision as an act of "outrageous political persecution" and said it
showed "contempt for Chilean sovereignty, for Chilean democracy and
for the Chilean courts."
director of Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, applauded
the move as a significant victory, saying: "Up until now it's been about the
law. But now it's about the crimes, and he's going to have to answer the
The case, six
months old, has transformed international law, galvanized
human rights and exile groups and stirred passionate old antagonisms in
Chile and other countries that have recent experiences of dictatorial
regimes. It has produced diplomatic problems for Britain despite the
government's insistence that Pinochet's detention has been from the start
a police and judicial matter rather than a political one.
Thursday represents the second time that Straw has
permitted the extradition case to go forward. But he based his first
authorization, on Dec. 9, on the much broader case that existed at that
Last month the
Law Lords, England's highest court, threw out all but
three of the 32 original charges of murder, torture and hostage taking.
The Law Lords reasoned that the only counts on which the general could
be arrested and held for extradition were three dating from the period
after Dec. 8, 1988, when the U.N. Torture Convention took effect here
and torture abroad became a crime punishable in British courts.
Straw, the top
law-enforcement officer in England, said he based his
decision solely on the law and had not been swayed by any "possible
effects" that keeping Pinochet under house arrest in England might have
on the stability of Chile's democracy or British national interests.
In a lengthy
and detailed statement that appeared to anticipate the High
Court review that Pinochet's lawyers will almost certainly seek, Straw
justified his decision with specific legal precedents and quotations from
He said the Spanish
request was legally well founded and properly drawn
up, that the offenses were not "of a political character," that no statutes of
limitations had run out and that it would not be "unjust or oppressive" to
expose the general to the charges now.
He turned aside
arguments that the 83-year-old general was unfit to
stand trial but added, "This question, among others, can be re-examined
in the light of any developments."
He said he based
his decision on the three charges and did not need to
rely on the evidence of 46 additional cases from after 1988 that Baltasar
Garzon, the judge in Madrid, Spain, who brought the original complaint,
had submitted since the Law Lords most recent ruling.
Chilean government arguments that the general should be
tried in his home country, Straw said he had no extradition request from
Chile and added, "There is no provision of international law which
excludes Spain's jurisdiction in this matter."
Each new step
in the extradition procedure is subject to judicial review,
and the possibility exists that the case will find its way back to the House
of Lords three additional times. Even after all the appeals were
exhausted, Straw would have to make a final ruling before Pinochet
could be taken to Madrid.
Dr. Michael Byers,
an international lawyer and a fellow of Jesus College,
Oxford, estimated Thursday that the whole process could last up to two
arrested last Oct. 16 in London and spent succeeding
months protesting the action on the basis that as a former head of state he
had sovereign immunity. That view was upheld by the High Court on
Oct. 28, but reversed, on appeal, by the Law Lords on Nov. 25.
from Garzon charged Pinochet with genocide, murder,
torture and kidnapping in connection with the death or disappearance of
more than 3,000 people in the years after he seized power in a coup in