Diplomatic uproar after Straw allows extradition of Pinochet

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The Independent Online

Jack Straw decided yesterday that the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should face extradition to Spain on charges of human rights abuse, provoking intense political and diplomatic acrimony.

Jack Straw decided yesterday that the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should face extradition to Spain on charges of human rights abuse, provoking intense political and diplomatic acrimony.

Within hours of the Home Secretary's refusal to stop extradition, Chile announced it was recalling its ambassador to London. Present and former Conservative politicians, led by Baroness Thatcher, condemned the Home Secretary, accusing him of making a political decision camouflaged by "legal posturing".

But Mr Straw, sitting beside the Prime Minister at yesterday's question time, delighted his backbenchers by resisting the tremendous pressure put on him to intervene in the extradition process. There was also sincere praise from Amnesty International, which had earlier gone to the High Court to try to block the Home Secretary had he decided to send General Pinochet back to Chile.

There was speculation that the Government had made strenuous diplomatic efforts last week in Washington to avoid a rift with the Clinton administration after calls from the Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, for the general to be returned to Chile. Washington is apprehensive about details of the CIA's involvement in the coup that brought down Salvador Allende's government in Chile being publicised in open court.

General Pinochet's lawyers will, it is believed, challenge the extradition process every step of the way. Their first move could be today with an application to the High Court for leave to seek a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision.

Tomorrow, General Pinochet is due to appear at Belmarsh magistrates' court in south London for the preliminary hearing of the extradition application.

Lady Thatcher, who had tea with the general before his arrest, was vehement in her criticism of Mr Straw, whom she accused of a failure of political leadership. She said: "He had ample power to put an end to this shameful and damaging episode. He has chosen instead to prolong it. Neither he nor the Government can hide behind legal posturing. This was a political decision and it represents a failure of political leadership."

Sir Norman Fowler, shadow Home Secretary, said: "He has missed a golden opportunity to bring this sorry affair to an end. He has caved in to the pressure of his backbenchers and cabinet colleagues like Mr Mandelson [who praised the arrest of General Pinochet].

"The British Government have mishandled this case from day one."

The Chilean government, angry at the Home Secretary's decision, said it was withdrawing its ambassador as a "gesture" and so he could brief Santiago on Mr Straw's decision. The Spanish government stated it would fully back the legal process, which could see the general in a Spanish court.

Among the victims of the Pinochet regime in Chile and Spain there was widespread relief and joy, and praise for the British Government.

Within his own party Mr Straw's stock has dramatically risen. Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing MP who had co-ordinated the campaign against the general in the UK, praised the Home Secretary's role. Another campaigner, Ann Clwyd, said: "Labour MPs are absolutely delighted. I have just gone through the tea room and it was thumbs up all the way."

Richard Bunting, a spokesman for Amnesty International, said: "Today's decision marks the birth of a new era for human rights. His [the Home Secretary's] decision recognises the memory of those who were tortured, killed or disappeared during the Pinochet regime."

Mr Straw's announcement tightens the legal noose around the 83-year-old general. As well as Spain there are extradition requests for him from France and Switzerland.

There was, however, a degree of comfort for the former dictator in the Home Secretary's decision that the Spanish charges of genocide and murder did not satisfy the definition of an extraditable crime under Section 2 of the Extradition Act, 1989. His formal permission for the extradition process to begin, the Authority to Proceed, concentrated on crimes of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, torture, conspiracy to torture, hostage taking and conspiracy to take hostages.