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Great Britain: Pinochet Charges Judge With Bias

  • Ben Partridge

London, 14 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Lawyers representing General Augusto Pinochet will appeal to Britain's House of Lords tomorrow to overturn its ruling that the former Chilean dictator cannot claim immunity from legal proceedings in Britain.

Their case is based partly on their claim that one of the three British judges (Lord Hoffmann) who recently ruled against Pinochet should have declared his interest as a director of the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI).

Pinochet was arrested two months ago at a London hospital where he was recovering from minor surgery on his back. A Spanish judge wants him extradited to Madrid to face charges of genocide and torture during his 17-year rule in Chile, when at least 3,000 people died or disappeared, among them many Spanish citizens.

Five judges from Britain's House of Lords, Britain's highest court, ruled three weeks ago three to two that he had no immunity from prosecution. This ruling was upheld by British Home Secretary Jack Straw last week.

"I considered all the representations made to me and in the light of the representations and of my legal obligations, I decided to issue an authority to proceed in respect of the extradition of Senator Pinochet."

Pinochet's lawyers will argue that he hasn't had a fair hearing because one of the judges was linked with AI. Over the next two days, a committee of another five of Britain's 12 law lords will hear the appeal. The first decision could be reversed.

The new legal moves coincide with stepped-up support for Pinochet from Santiago which says the extradition process violates Chile's sovereignty, as well as Pinochet's diplomatic immunity as a member of the Chilean Senate.

Until now Pinochet and his supporters have paid for his defense, but the center-right coalition government of President Eduardo Frei is now expected to shoulder at least some of the burden.

Chile has suspended official visits to Britain and is expected to freeze major contracts with British and Spanish companies.

Peter Schaad, a supporter of Pinochet, said the 83-year-old former Chilean leader is bitter about his arrest. Schaad also questioned whether Spain had any moral right to prosecute Pinochet because during the Franco era, many thousands had died in Spain, but, Schaad said, "no prosecution has taken place in Spain itself."

The arrest of Pinochet has reopened deep wounds in Chile. It has been welcomed as a victory for human rights by those with relatives who died or disappeared after the military coup that ousted democratically-elected Marxist President Salvador Allende in 1973. But supporters of Pinochet, including two at a recent demonstration, claim that he will not receive real justice in Europe, and that he saved Chile from communism.

"In Europe, it's not possible to have any justice because they have a very bad image about him. Only in Chile is it possible to have real justice." (Woman) "Pinochet is no murderer. He's no murderer. He's our hero. He saved us from communism."

In an open letter from Britain, where he's being held under house arrest outside London, Pinochet said he is innocent of the charges made against him by a Spanish judge.

He said communism in Europe had -- in his words -- "murdered many millions of human beings." He said, as he put it, that he is being "persecuted for having defeated (communism) in Chile, saving (his) country from a virtual civil war." The 13-page open letter was read on television and printed in full in newspapers in Chile, which has seen a wave of demonstrations for and against Pinochet since his arrest.