How Kosovo Has Helped Case Against Pinochet

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General Augusto Pinochet may prove to be one of the most unexpected casualties of the Kosovo war. The former Chilean dictator’s extradition case got under way in London Monday in an international legal climate much different from when he was first arrested last October. Spain wants Pinochet extradited to face trial for the systematic human rights abuses committed by his military junta between 1973 and 1990 (including, but not limited to, torture on Spanish citizens). Chile’s government is arguing that extraditing Pinochet violates Chile’s sovereignty, and that if he needs to be tried it should be in a Chilean court –- although there had appeared to be no prospect of that happening before his arrest in Britain.

But since Pinochet’s arrest, Britain has joined the U.S. and other NATO allies in the Kosovo war, which was based on the idea that Yugoslavian sovereignty was less important than its crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Indeed, it becomes difficult while pressing for Slobodan Milosevic to be tried in the Hague for crimes against his own citizenry to argue that the charges against Pinochet –- whose regime murdered at least 3,000 of its political opponents –- are a domestic matter. But even if a British Magistrate’s Court upholds Spain’s extradition request, the 83-year-old general will still have recourse to appeal –- and ultimately, to a political decision by Home Secretary Jack Straw, who may well be persuaded by compassionate arguments on behalf of the ailing Pinochet. But by then, the general may well have been a prisoner in Britain for two years, and that will give the families and supporters of his victims a sense of justice even if Pinochet is to spend his last days at home.