In Chile, Investigating Judge Victor Montiglio issued arrests warrants for 129 former associates of the secret police (DINA) during the Pinochet years. The warrants involve members of all three branches of the military as well as the police, accused of working with the DINA to forcibly disappear suspected opponents of the government of General Augusto Pinochet during the 1970s. The cases on which the warrants are based include the forced disappearance of top leaders of the Communist Party, the killing of members of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, which at the time was portrayed as a result of internecine war within the left, and killings and disappearances as a result of Operation Condor, the South America-wide coordinated effort by the military regimes (with U.S. backing) to rid themselves of leftist activists. The judge indicated that he is pursuing anyone who was involved in the crimes, not just those “most responsible.”
A few interesting issues raised by the warrants:
► First, technically, Chile still has an amnesty law in place, and the center-left governments that succeeded Pinochet have been unable to overturn or “interpret” the law legislatively despite a clear decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Caso Almonacid Arellano y otros v. Chile (2006), that the government must do so. Rather, the judiciary has itself interpreted the amnesty law so that it does not apply in cases involving either forced disappearances or other international crimes. The amnesty has not stopped indictments, trials and convictions (nor has the statute of limitations on the crimes, which has been held not to apply to either continuing crimes or crimes against humanity). Rather, Chile's Supreme Court, in a number of cases starting last year, has allowed convictions but then reduced the sentence greatly as a result of a procedural device called “half prescription.” Under this device, because the cases have taken so long to go forward, the defendant gets the applicable sentence reduced, and the aggravating factors that would otherwise increase the sentence do not apply. In a number of cases, convictions for the disappearance of sizable numbers of people have led to 3-to-7-year sentences: any sentence less than 5 years can be served on parole. This has led to an interesting debate in
► Is it better to convict but not punish the former security forces (most now quite elderly), or is that yet another affront to the victims?
This debate is sure to recur as the current crop of cases comes to trial.
In Guatemala yesterday, a trial
So ... a good day for the fight against impunity for international crimes in the