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Declarations & Statements


The Independent, 5.3.00

Comment: Justice has lost in the Pinochet saga

There were sighs of relief all round as the plane took off from RAF Waddington back to Santiago. Taking tea with Baroness Thatcher may not be so attractive again. This is good. Former tyrants will have to think twice before setting foot on British soil in the future. This is good, too. But the release of Augusto Pinochet - senile or not - into the arms of his few adoring friends in Chile is not all welcome.

For a start, he's got away with it. Victims of torture in Chile may take some small comfort from the precedent set by the general's case, but they haven't got justice, and neither have the families who lost so many loved ones. The chances of Pinochet facing charges in his own country under a constitution specifically written (by Pinochet) to avoid such an eventuality are remote indeed.

Second, the arcane procedures of the extradition process mean that a repeat of this case is hard to anticipate. Remember that British victims of the dictator's torturers, such as Sheila Cassidy, were unable to bring charges against him during his visits here; it was only when a third country asked for extradition that the British legal system did anything about it.

Third, the hurried nature of the departure left a nasty taste in the mouth. Jack Straw angrily rejected criticism that his actions over the past 16 months were motivated by politics rather than legality. So far, he has been justified. But the general's hasty back-door exit suggested that the Home Secretary, for political reasons, was keen to be shot of the whole problem.

This long saga has not, contrary to what the Thatcher-loving tabloids say, been a waste of time or money. But it would be unwise to celebrate. An evil man has been discomfited for a few months. That is hardly justice.

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