Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Pinochet Case Raises Issues Of Law, Morality

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The British High Court's ruling yesterday that Chile's Augusto Pinochet, as a former head of state, is immune from prosecution in England ignited heated discussion in the Western press. One commentator described the case as a clash between yesterday's realpolitik and today's international global view. Commentary takes both attitudes.

TIMES: It would be folly to let a Spanish magistrate determine an issue of international relations

The Times of London says any other outcome would have been absurd. In an editorial, The Times says: "One by one, former statesmen and Chile's neighbors have denounced the attempt by outsiders to disrupt the post-Pinochet settlement and urged Britain and Spain to find ways to stop the law leading to an absurdity."

The editorial says: "That absurdity has been compounded as the courts of one country after another have sent writs into London demanding ... Pinochet's extradition. This extension of the "universality of justice" doctrine undermines the principle that states are primarily responsible for dealing with crimes committed on their soil. It opens up the dangerous spectacle of a free-for-all where states, with different notions of crime and punishment, launch prosecutions for activities they find repugnant elsewhere. The notion of extra-territoriality is not generally accepted except for genocide and crimes against humanity. To allow judicial activism by a Spanish magistrate to determine so elemental an issue of international relations would be folly indeed."

NEW YORK TIMES: An amnesty imposed by a dictator should not get the world's legal approval

But, contends The New York Times in an editorial, international conventions provide for prosecution for torture and genocide anywhere in the world. The High Court erred, says The Times. It says: "England's High Court on Wednesday quashed the arrest order of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, ruling that as a former head of state he is immune from prosecution or arrest in Britain. The decision is a mistake."

The editorial says: "Britain has signed and ratified international conventions against torture and genocide. These allow prosecution of genocide and widespread torture -- including by leaders -- no matter where in the world they are committed."

It concludes: "Pinochet's continued power in Chile can protect him politically. But in the case of especially horrendous crimes, an amnesty imposed by a dictator should not get the world's legal approval."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Might ethical foreign policy and classical realpolitik just share the same opportunism?

The whole Pinochet matter, writes commentator Rolf Paasch in the Frankfurter Rundschau, turns "what otherwise might appear to be a classic dispute between countries over the extradition of an alleged criminal offender (into) a cross-border clash between yesterday's men and the as yet unsure advocates of a new, world-encompassing concept of domestic affairs."

Paasch writes: "The arrest in London of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was a diplomatic accident with repercussions. Initially, the arrest involved neither political intent nor legal calculation. It was more of a coincidence." He writes: "It also involved a growing international awareness, in the wake of globalization, of human rights violations that are given increasing media coverage. General Pinochet, as a former head of state, is a man caught between eras."

Paasch cites Western leaders' lack of such resolve toward other world figures equally assumed to have committed crimes against humanity. He writes: "Are European heads of government who have just signed trade agreements in Beijing or shaken hands with Fidel Castro in Porto in any position to put Pinochet in the dock when the bully boys of other regimes have enjoyed life in exile in London or Paris for years? Why do warmongers like (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman regularly receive western emissaries rather than being brought before the United Nations tribunal in The Hague? Might ethical foreign policy and classical realpolitik just share the same opportunism?"

And the German commentator concludes: "By contrast, a lone Spanish judge has shown how small steps can serve to remold the world's legal system to match changes in the world's conscience. Or would have done had there not been High Court judges in London who continue to see Pinochet with the backwards-looking viewpoint of (former British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher."

From London, The Guardian newspaper headlines an editorial: "WIN FOR PINOCHET; No Justice for His Victims". The editorial says British moderation and respect for law correctly give Pinochet a legal victory that, personally, he doesn't deserve. The editorial says: "General Augusto Pinochet was served very well yesterday by the judicial system of the country whose civilized moderation he is said to admire. Although not known as an exponent of that virtue himself, the former dictator of Chile has huge cause to be thankful for the High Court judgment that he is not subject to the criminal and civil process of the English courts as the former ruler of a foreign country."

The editorial concludes by addressing Britain's guest himself. It says: "Go home, Augusto, and never return to this country of moderation which you do not deserve."

Two days before yesterday's verdict, Los Angeles Times writer Sebastion Rotella in Santiago, Chile, analyzed the delicate political deal in Chile which the Spanish-British actions against Pinochet threatened to unravel. Rotella wrote: "Just over a week ago, Chileans were concerned about a teachers strike, next year's presidential campaign and the impact of the Asian crisis on their economy, a model of prosperity in a region that is nonetheless vulnerable to international turbulence."

Rotella said: "Although he is 82 years old, momentarily powerless, and bedridden in a guarded hospital room across the Atlantic, Pinochet has once again placed Chile under siege."

He wrote: "Chileans have been forced to realize that globalization means more than their avid embrace of foreign investment and free markets, an area in which Chile has led South America. It also means accepting the political and ethical rules of the international community of democracies, leaders and human rights advocates say. The complex deal that Chile worked out shielding Pinochet from justice and incorporating his forces into the government has collided head-on with the changing realities of the outside world."