Justice for Pinochet
Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is back home, free after 503 days of custody in Britain, but not free of the charges that caused his detention there.
Those charges of torture and murder received a worldwide airing because of the tenacity of a Spanish judge, Baltazar Garzn. He launched the extradition case that resulted in General Pinochet's detention by British authorities.
Similar charges against Pinochet may yet receive a thorough airing in Chile itself because of the courage of a judge there, Juan Guzmn. He has found ways to weaken the immunity from prosecution claimed by Pinochet and his military henchmen.
One case being pursued by Mr. Guzmn looks at the activities of an execution squad called "Caravan of Death" that operated soon after Pinochet seized power in 1973. The probe could lead to the general himself - if the immunity Pinochet now possesses as a "senator for life" in Chile's national legislature can be surmounted.
That legal shield was built in by Pinochet when he stepped down in 1990. Its removal would be a credit to Chile's maturing democracy. But resolving if and how - in a civilian court or in a military court more congenial to Pinochet - the country's once-absolute ruler will be tried could take years. Many observers doubt he'll ever face trial - a prospect that disturbs relatives and friends of the more than 3,000 people who were tortured, murdered, or "disappeared" in the 1970s and '80s.
They can take heart, however, that the Pinochet case has planted a seed that should germinate in greater justice in the future.
Crimes against humanity - such as mass torture or murder - should not be hidden under the immunity traditionally granted former heads of state. A consensus is growing that the perpetrators of such crimes can't be allowed to move about the globe with impunity.
To make sure that such international justice is not abused, however, a global body composed of most nations should be used.
Otherwise, any nation might presume it can arrest any foreign leader on any charge that it considers a "crime against humanity" - including, for example, military action ordered by a US president.
For Pinochet, it's now up to his own nation to decide whether he remains a free man and whether the victims of his reign are given justice.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society