Spanish judges vow to continue extradition fight

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AMID THE outrage of human rights groups and relatives of victims of the Chilean dictatorship, Spanish judges vowed yesterday to continue their fight to extradite General Augusto Pinochet to Spain to face trial for crimes of genocide and torture, despite the High Court ruling that the former military ruler enjoyed sovereign immunity as former head of state.

Judge Baltasar Garzon was prepared to press ahead with his extradition request as long as the general remained in detention, said sources at the Spanish National Court yesterday. "We will fight on and hope that the House of Lords will rule in our favour," the sources said.

Judge Garzon's request for General Pinochet's arrest prompted police to detain him in a London clinic on 16 October. The High Court decision means the warrant was invalid, but the general remains in detention until appeals are heard.

Joan Garces, one of the chief lawyers helping Judge Garzon, said yesterday: "I cannot comment on the ruling as I do not yet know its legal basis. But it is an international norm incorporated into international law that there is no immunity for heads of state or government from crimes against humanity. This was established by the Nuremberg trial and ratified by the UN in 1946."

Mr Garces denied he was disappointed at the British ruling: "This is a very complex legal matter, and it is usual that controversial decisions are subject to appeal. The important thing is that Pinochet remains in detention, because that means he is still at the disposal of the legal process."

Marcela Pradena, a Chilean lawyer who has been campaigning in Madrid on behalf of General Pinochet's victims ever since she was detained and tortured in Chile 25 years ago, described the ruling as "terrible, the worst thing that could happen, the decision guarantees his impunity. What's the point of him remaining in detention if he's immune from the legal process? I hope this doesn't contaminate the decision of our National Court."

Eleven judges in Spain's National Court meet this afternoon to decide whether or not to approve Judge Garzon's extradition request. A decision is expected before the weekend. The meeting is bound to be overshadowed by yesterday's High Court decision.

Pat Bennetts, whose brother, Michael Woodward, was a British priest tortured and killed in Chile in September 1973, said yesterday at her home in Spain that she was "very disappointed" by the ruling: "Anybody who had a victim close to them would be."

"How could you think Pinochet should be immune as head of state? You couldn't possibly deny that he was responsible for so many murders," she said.

Mr Woodward was working with the poor in the shipyards of Valparaiso when he was picked up by a naval patrol in the early hours of 22 September 1973. He was taken to a military barracks, then a prison ship, and died from terrible wounds on his way to a naval hospital. He was buried in a mass grave that was later obliterated by a road, when bodies that were uncovered were pushed off a cliff into the sea.

The Spanish case is likely to decide the outcome of the separate extradition requests for the general from the authorities in Switzerland and Sweden, as well as an application lodged with a Paris court by a Chilean exile, two of whose brothers were murdered by the Pinochet regime.

Human rights groups meanwhile branded the ruling as "outrageous", saying it only underscored the need for the United Nation's International Criminal Court to be operating as soon as possible. The judgment that the former dictator was entitled to immunity as a former head of state was "an erroneous statement of international law", said Christopher Hill of Amnesty International.