Facebook Twitter

Court strips Pinochet of immunity

SHARE Court strips Pinochet of immunity

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile's Supreme Court stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet's immunity, clearing the way for the former dictator to be tried on human rights charges, the court said Tuesday.

The court voted 14-6 to allow the 84-year-old Pinochet to be prosecuted on charges stemming from his 1973-1990 rule, Justice Jose Benquis said.

The actual vote was last week, but the decision was not announced until the legal ruling was written and signed by all the justices.

The court turned down Pinochet's appeal of a lower court decision in June stripping him of the immunity he had as a senator-for-life, a post he created for himself in the constitution written under his regime.

"This is not a defeat. Our next step, if a trial actually takes place, is to prove the complete innocence of Gen. Pinochet," said lawyer Gustavo Collao, a member of Pinochet's legal team.

Eduardo Contreras, a communist anti-Pinochet lawyer, said "this is a very emotional moment. We dedicate it to the many victims of repression under Pinochet."

An official Chilean government report says 3,197 people died or disappeared at the hands of Pinochet's secret police after he toppled the country's elected Marxist president in a 1973 coup.

Despite the high court's decision, the former dictator's foes acknowledge that a quick trial is unlikely.

The former dictator's age, his medical problems and his other legal privileges could drag out attempts to try him.

"I do not see Pinochet going to jail," Hugo Gutierrez, attorney for several plaintiffs in the case, said Monday.

Putting Pinochet on trial "could take up to eight years," Contreras said over the weekend.

Police said before the verdict was announced that they would step up security around the court building to keep expected pro- and anti-Pinochet demonstrators apart.

President Ricardo Lagos, a socialist who was briefly jailed under Pinochet, appealed Monday for calm and for all to respect the ruling.

If the case against Pinochet goes forward, prospective trial judge Juan Guzman would almost certainly face further delays. Since Pinochet is older than 70, Guzman would have to have him examined by doctors to determine whether he is fit to stand trial. Pinochet's relatives and lawyers, however, say the former ruler will not submit to the procedure.

They say that while Pinochet is in poor health, he is not mentally incompetent, the only grounds in Chilean law to exempt people from criminal responsibility.

Pinochet suffers from diabetes, has a pacemaker and has sustained three mild strokes.

In addition, Pinochet's status as a retired general gives him the right to be questioned in writing rather than in person, which could also delay the process.