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Declarations & Statements


The New York Times, 15.1.00

Editorial: New Twist in the Pinochet Case

Britain's declaration that Gen. Augusto Pinochet is medically unfit to stand trial should not be the final word on this matter. More information is needed, and it can be provided under a reasonable plan proposed yesterday by the Spanish judge who is seeking to prosecute the former Chilean dictator for human rights abuses.

Under the plan, outlined by Judge Baltasar Garzón, two doctors appointed by his Madrid court would take part in a new examination of Mr. Pinochet, who has suffered a series of minor strokes. The result of that exam, and an earlier one performed solely by British physicians, would be made available to Judge Garzón. He would then determine whether Mr. Pinochet should be spared a trial because of mental impairment and an inability to understand the charges.

This case is too important to set aside without a second medical opinion, and without giving the Spanish court access to the doctors' reports. The British government has not shared the results of the first examination with the Spanish court.

If Mr. Pinochet is found by the Spanish court to be unfit, even some of the most fervent advocates for prosecution would have to agree that justice would not be served by proceeding against an enfeebled man.

The case has already made a profound contribution to international law. It established that even former heads of state do not enjoy impunity for crimes against humanity, and may be tried outside the country where the crimes were committed. It has also had a liberating effect on Chile. When General Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998, many feared that the charges would destabilize Chile's transition to democracy. As Chileans prepare to vote for a new president this weekend, it appears the opposite has occurred.

Between 1973 and 1990 General Pinochet presided over the murder or disappearance of more than 3,000 Chileans and the torture of thousands more. His intimidation was so complete that he and his associates escaped prosecution for a decade after he stepped down. But since his arrest, emboldened Chilean courts have issued rulings that have shaken the military's immunity. More than two dozen of his former officers have been arrested for murder and kidnapping.

Former political prisoners are preparing to file the first criminal complaint accusing General Pinochet and some of his former officers of torture.

None of this has disturbed Chile's fledgling democracy. On the contrary, Chileans have experienced the first presidential campaign since his coup in 1973 that was not distorted by the polarizing legacies of General Pinochet. The candidates -- Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist, and Joaquin Lavín, a former official in General Pinochet's government -- have stressed everyday problems like health care, crime and unemployment. It suggests that those who feared the destabilizing power of justice underestimated its healing effect.

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