The English Prisoner

The arrest of Chile's Pinochet signals trouble for retiring tyrants everywhere.

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Dictators contemplating retirement these days have to worry about more than a volatile stock market: The arrest of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet in London over the weekend signals that immunity deals at home don't necessarily protect the traveling tyrant. "This is part of the trend we've seen in Rwanda and Bosnia of holding people accountable for human rights violations even if they've eluded justice at home," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Pinochet's arrest sends a message that there's no peaceful retirement for ex-dictators."

Although his junta is accused of killing or "disappearing" 4,300 opponents, Pinochet was granted immunity in Chile as the price for his handing over power to an elected government. But the general was arrested in London after Spain sought his extradition over the killing of Spanish citizens in Chile. The arrest is a double-edged sword: "The offer of immunity is often used as a way of peacefully easing out dictators -- this may make more of them hold on till the bitter end," says Dowell. "On the other hand, it does act as a deterrent on dictators by making clear that the world will hold you accountable for whatever you do today."