Letter: Chile awakens

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The Independent Culture
Sir: In seeking the wisdom of Solomon from Jack Straw on the case of ex-President Pinochet, we may lose sight of the fact that it is grossly unfair and highly inappropriate for a decision of this kind to be expected of a British Home Secretary at all.

We need to learn internationally the core lesson of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission that it is necessary to know what has gone on (the killings, torture and human abuse) but that it is not necessary to extract revenge. Because there are no international instruments to bring people to trial for "crimes against humanity" (and we have to rely on random coincidences of travel arrangements and legal procedures) it does not follow that we could not devise some international body, on the model of a grand jury, to ascertain the facts, whether or not there were a judicial body to act on them. This would prevent any abuse of what will surely be the precedent to be set by Jack Straw, whichever way he decides. Without such a body the international community, not to mention the media, will find it hard to distinguish between the awful and the horrendous.

But, beyond that, the biblical message seems to be that revenge does not actually benefit the victims, however legitimate their grievance and profound their grief. Of course, the assumption that "fairness" demands retribution is deep in the human psyche. It is this instinct that we need to grow out of, a colossal task, while making every possible effort to expose the truth of what happened in the worst cases.


Secretary for Church and Society

The United Reformed Church

London WC1