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Pinochet Declared Unfit for Trial in Chile

General Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile from 1973-1990, was first arrested at a London hospital on October 16, 1998. A Spanish judge issued the original Interpol warrant for his arrest, citing alleged atrocities against humanity committed between 1973 and 1983 in Chile. However, after being detained in London for over one year, Pinochet was released in March 2000 on medical grounds. Although he was never fully tried in the British court, his arrest and detention in London marked one of the first times a national leader faced trial for human rights abuses in a third-party country.

Upon Pinochet’s return to his home in Santiago, Chilean Judge Juan Guzman indicted the general on December 1, 2000, a move made possible by the British court’s decision that the general was not immune from trial. After an appellate court dismissed the charges on technical grounds, Judge Guzman eventually reinstated the indictment charges on January 29, 2001 and the general was placed under house arrest while the court reviewed his medical records and he awaited trial. Nearly six months later, on July 9, 2001, an appeals court in Chile officially declared that the former dictator - who suffers from dementia - is mentally unfit to stand trial until his condition improves. At this time, it remains uncertain whether this decision will stand or whether prosecutors will attempt to overturn the ruling and continue the trial process.

Over the years, Pinochet has been charged with numerous human rights violations, including the systematic execution of dozens of political prisoners, as well as the abduction, torture, and disappearance of hundreds of political opponents during his seventeen-year dictatorship in Chile. These accusations have been issued both by his own nationals and those of other countries. The interplay of human rights principles and international legal norms has made the Pinochet case one of the most closely watched human rights cases in recent history. This “hot topic” site collects factual and legal resources relevant to the unfolding situation.

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Written July 19, 2001, Last Updated May 29, 2003


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