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Conference Held on Impunity in Chile and the Need for the ICC

by Devon Chaffee
Intern for Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy

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The Non-governmental Organization Coalition for an International Criminal Court hosted a panel on June 15, 2000 featuring presentations given by Dr. Fabiola Letelier, President of the Corporacion de Defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo (CODEPU) in Chile, and Honorable Judge Baltasar Garzon, Judge of the Audiencia Nacional in Spain. Judge Garzon is well known for requesting General Augusto Pinochet=s arrest, triggering the extended and unsuccessful extradition procedures that followed. The Church Center auditorium was filled with an audience eager to hear the prominent presenters speak on the issue of "Experiences in the Struggle against Impunity and the Necessity for an International Criminal Court.@

Dr. Fabiola Letelier, a Chilean human rights lawyer, spoke primarily on the situation of impunity in Chile for perpetrators of gross human rights violations committed under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet 1973-1990. She began by explaining how the crimes committed during Pinochet=s rule were uncontroversially international because citizens of several nations, including Spain, Argentina and the United States, were victims of these crimes. The Pinochet regime also carried out crimes within the territory of other nations, such as the United States, Italy and Argentina, including the assassination of Letelier’s own brother in Washington, D.C. in 1966. Though the families of victims of the Pinochet regime have struggled along with human rights organizations to achieve justice in Chile, Fabiola reported that the decree of self amnesty of 1978 continues to serve as a strong mechanism of impunity, as it has protected the former dictator even after ten years of civilian rule.

Recognizing that such impunity has been granted in several Latin American states, Fabiola rejected the alleged purpose of these amnesty laws, which is that the laws supposedly contribute to reconciliation and peace, stating that they served only to eliminate the responsibility of those who committed horrendous crimes. Fabiola insisted that all legal means possible be used to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, because impunity renders its victims helpless, denies them justice and violates their rights, as clearly stated by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an institution which has requested that Chile repeal its amnesty laws. Fabiola highlighted how families of victims of the Pinochet regime supported the extradition requests of Spain, cooperated with the Spanish court, and continue their efforts to lift Pinochet=s amnesty after his return from England, despite the refusal of the Chilean Supreme Court to do so.

When speaking of the results of the Chilean consultation table concerning human rights, which provide for the recovery of information on persons still missing as a result of enforced disappearances, Fabiola rejected the Table’s outcome stating that it does nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice. The government has committed only to help find the bodies of the disappeared but not to investigate how the crimes were committed or to prosecute the perpetrators. Fabiola also expressed her regret that President Ricardo Lagos, current president of Chile and the first Chilean president from the socialist party since Salvador Allende=s overthrow, has followed the example of his predecessors in upholding amnesty laws. In relation to the International Criminal Court, Fabiola stated that the families of victims of the Pinochet regime=s crimes in Chile support the ICC, and that she believed the court would be essential in preventing the repetition of the types of crimes that occurred in Chile.

The Honorable Judge Baltasar Garzon spoke less of the Pinochet case, and concentrating instead on the immediate obligations of state signatories to the ICC statute. He first spoke of the many ways countries can, and are obligated to implement the ICC before its entry into force. Garzon noted the importance of states adapting domestic codes and procedures to the court=s statute, stressing that the process of domestic adaptation will be as important as ratification to the entry into force of the court. Garzon also spoke of the responsibility of domestic courts to apply the principle of universal jurisdiction, as is put forth in instruments such as the Convention against Genocide and the Convention against Torture, a principle that was certainly utilized by Garzon himself in the case of Pinochet.

According to Garzon, domestic courts will need to invoke universal jurisdiction even after the ICC enters into force in order to address crimes not under the court=s jurisdiction due to the nature of the crime or the principle of non-retroactivity. Admitting that he was, at first, very critical of the ICC statute due to certain negative elements, Garzon explained how he came to the conclusion that the existence of the norms established by the court overshadowed the Rome Statute=s weaknesses. He went on to share several of his concerns about the court, discussing topics such as disappearances, sexual slavery, and US attempts to amend article 98, all themes which have been the subject of great debate at the ICC Prep Com over the past weeks. Garzon expressed his hopes that the integrity of the ICC will not be compromised, and that state delegates will not sacrifice important principles in order to hasten the Court=s entry into force.


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