Even if Augusto Pinochet eventually escapes trial for the widespread torture and terrorism that characterized his regime in Chile (1973-1991), the efforts to bring him to justice in Spain (and lately France, Switzerland, and Belgium) mark a pivotal moment in international human rights law. Longstanding assumptions about sovereignty, impunity, and popular will have been re-arranged in a new calculus that should make the world less hospitable to abusive heads of state and former heads of state.
Pinochet had traveled to London—his favorite city—in October 1998 and stayed on for treatment of a herniated disk. Just before 6 p.m. on October 16, the Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzón issued a warrant calling for the general’s extradition to Madrid to stand trial for “crimes against humanity,” as defined in 1946 by the Nuremberg Principles. These “universal crimes against basic humane standards” include systematized killings, torture, disappearance, slavery, arbitrary deportation, forced labor, rape, and persecution for political, religious, or ethnic reasons. Crimes against humanity have no statute of limitation and can be tried at any time in any nation....
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