Spain formally seeks Pinochet extradition

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The Independent Online
THE ODDS of General Pinochet being returned to Spain if his immunity is overturned by the House of Lords increased yesterday, as the Madrid government formally asked Britain to extradite the former Chilean dictator.

The request is likely to reach London on Tuesday, the same day as a panel of five Law Lords are expected to conclude their appeal hearings, with submissions from lawyers for the General, seeking that last month's High Court ruling, granting him sovereign immunity from judicial proceedings in the UK, should be upheld.

In one sense, Madrid's decision was a formality, since the Government had already indicated it would not interfere in the judicial process. Last week, the country's national court ruled Spain did indeed have the right to try Pinochet for the crime of genocide of which he is accused by Judge Baltasar Garzon, who filed the original request for extradition.

"We understand this is a delicate matter which must be treated with prudence. But we have to respect the law and the decisions of our judges, whether it pleases the government or not," Abel Matutes, the Spanish Foreign Minister, said last night.

Earlier this week Judge Garzon set out detailed charges, accusing the General of involvement in more than 3,000 deaths and disappearances between 1973 and 1980.

But the move signifies that the appeal to the House of Lords has become a benchmark case of international criminal law, with major implications for the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) to be set up under the aegis of the United Nations.

Already the five-judge appeals' panel has allowed submissions by human rights' groups, including Amnesty International, which enter directly into the merits of the accusations. These argue that General Pinochet can be tried here for torture, under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act. They also contend that the grant of sovereign immunity flies in the face of all international precedent, set out in the statutes of the 1945 Nuremburg and Tokyo tribunals, and of the UN courts trying war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Meanwhile, the Great Britain and Ireland women's amateur golf team has withdrawn from the world championships being held in Chile next week on Government advice. The Ladies' Golf Union (LGU) said the joint British and Irish team pulled out because of General Pinochet's arrest and detention.