The Pinochet Decision: 'That he will be made to face his past is uplifting'

Harold Pinter, playwright and human rights activist, on why Straw's decision has restored his faith
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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW has made a brave and impressive decision. Frankly, I was rather surprised, amazed even, when I learnt that he had done the right thing and let justice take its course for Augusto Pinochet.

There were many pressures on him not do so. So many of these decisions are overtaken by a cynical realpolitik and leave justice behind. In refusing to betray justice, Mr Straw has restored some of my faith in politicians, just as the earlier decision by the law lords restored my faith in the judiciary.

The significance of this decision cannot be overestimated. Suddenly a brutal dictator has been brought to justice. Suddenly we have the prospect of the whole tawdry story of one of the West's pet despots being told to the world.

Pinochet was just one of many brutes who we in the West, the United States in particular, propped up, supported and paid for over the years. Let us be clear that these men were nothing to do with red China or the Soviet Union - they were our client rulers from Haiti to Paraguay and from Argentina to Indonesia. They were entirely dependent on us in the so-called "free world" and acted as our willing instruments.

Now Pinochet, in a sense on behalf of all those monsters, has been called to account. It is the most important event in international justice since the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals. Those trials took place in the long shadows of torture and genocide, just asPinochet's will.

Many barbaric things that took place in Pinochet's 17-year rule will be retold during the trial. Hideous atrocities took place. The evidence will remind us that his victims of torture and arbitrary execution were real people, and many of them were extremely young.

We will learn more about the brutal murder and mutilation of artists, the violent repression at the universities and the thousands of "disappeared", all already well-documented facts. They can no longer be ignored.

That Pinochet will be made to face his past is an uplifting prospect. At last, this man, irrespective of his position, is to be made answerable for his crimes. It is remarkable that, on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the British Government has taken a stand for those rights and for international law. We are only beginning to comprehend the consequences for the restoration of the faith of people everywhere in the system of international justice. The world has recognised that the systematic violation of human rights can be considered a crime against humanity.