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Tuesday, January 19, 1999 Published at 19:52 GMT


Pinochet 'crimes committed before appointment'

Protests continue in London to extradite the general

Lawyers trying to extradite Chile's former military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, have argued that some of the crimes alleged against him took place before he came to power, when he could not have claimed immunity.

The BBC's Andy Tighe: General Pinochet's PR operation has swung into action
But the general's lawyers say he was already Chile's leader when the alleged acts were carried out.

The arguments were part of a second round of hearings in the House of Lords, the UK's highest court, about the legality of General Pinochet's detention in the UK.

The pinochet File
Seven UK Law Lords are sitting in judgement on whether he should face extradition to Spain, or whether his status as a former head of state means he has immunity from arrest.

Alun Jones, QC, cited incidents of torture and murder that allegedly took place before the coup of September 11, 1973 which toppled Chile's elected leader, the Marxist Salvador Allende.

Chief Lord Justice Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson said the court would ask the Foreign Office to clarify just when the UK considered General Pinochet Chile's head of state.

General Pinochet's lawyers, who will be presenting their arguments later this week, contend that he was recognised as head of state immediately after the coup.

Immunity investigated

Alun Jones also argued that not all of a head of state's functions - state visits, signing treaties, and the sending and receiving of diplomats - attract immunity under international law

"No matter who you are, you have personal responsibility in respect of a category of crimes recognised internationally as particularly odious," he told the court.

"Somewhere a line has to be drawn between actions which are the functions of a head of state, and those which are not."

The court also heard evidence on the implications of the case in international law from expert Professor Christopher Greenwood.

Professor Greenwood told the Law Lords that there was "the very clearest guidance" that, since World War II, national courts - such as those of Spain - had increasingly been asserting jurisdiction over internationally recognised crimes such as torture.

The Chilean Government is due to argue that its courts are the only appropriate venue for any trial.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson said the court was to look more closely into how developing legal trends actually become international law.

The BBC correspondent Andy Tighe, reporting from the House of Lords, said there had been the usual demonstrations outside the courts.

Pro-Pinochet supporters claim that the "kidnapped" former general saved thousands of lives by averting a long and bloody civil war in Chile.

The correspondent said that the verdict is probably 10 days away.

Chilean envoy returns

The Chilean ambassador has returned to London to make sure that the Chilean Government's case for General Pinochet's release is heard.

"We are now in a new stage with the House of Lords and the government decided it would be convenient for me to return to co-ordinate the representation to be made by the government of Chile," he said.

Mario Artaza was recalled to Chile last month in protest at UK Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to allow extradition proceedings to proceed.

The former Chilean military leader was arrested in London on 16 October, on a Spanish warrant alleging he ordered murders, kidnapping and torture during his 17-year rule.

Last November a panel of five Law Lords ruled that he was not immune from arrest.

But their decision was set aside when it was held that one of the judges, Lord Hoffmann, had close ties with charity Amnesty International.

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