Pinochet's victims have their day

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THE VOICE of the victims of General Augusto Pinochet's military regime was allowed to be heard for the first time yesterday in the legal battle to extradite him to Spain to face charges of genocide, torture and terrorism.

They had won the unusual right to be represented before the House of Lords, which is being asked to overturn last week's High Court ruling that the former dictator of Chile was immune from prosecution at a former head of state.

Sheila Cassidy, a British torture victim of the Chilean junta, the family of "disappeared" anglo-Chilean William Beausire, and human rights pressure groups Amnesty International, the Redress Trust and the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture were represented before five Law Lords by Professor Ian Brownlie QC, a noted authority on international law.

Professor Brownlie told the Lords that his clients felt that they were being kept away from justice. "They have a particular perspective. They fear that much of the time there is a wall of impunity. There is no international court or tribunal that can rule on matters raised by the second warrant (which was used by the British authorities to arrest the former dictator, and was ruled illegal by the High Court).

"In other respects the obvious jurisdiction, that of Chile, is not available because of a self- interested internal amnesty. These extradition proceedings are a most important opening in this wall of impunity."

Professor Brownlie said that General Pinochet could not hide behind immunity under international laws. He maintained that English public policy is also against offering amnesty to those accused of torture.

Earlier the Law Lords were told that General Pinochet had broken the laws of his own country in his alleged involvement in murder, abduction and torture. The country's 1925 constitution forbade torture, unlawful arrest and imprisonment and required that the president be elected by a popular vote. General Pinochet overthrew the legally elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende in 1973, but the 1925 constitution remained in force for a further seven years.

Alun Jones QC, for the Crown Prosecution Service and Spain, told the Lords that this meant that Chile abided in its constitution by internationally acceptable standards and "does not regard functions of the head of state as the actions alleged against Pinochet".

The hearing was adjourned until Monday