Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Tuesday, 14 December 2004

Chile's most famous judge

Juan Guzman has spent years building a case against Augusto Pinochet, gradually transforming himself from a fairly anonymous member of the Court of Appeal into Chile's most famous judge.

Judge Juan Guzman surrounded by media in Chile
Judge Guzman has tried before to bring Augusto Pinochet to trial
Mr Guzman's decision to indict the former Chilean president on human rights charges - and rule that he is fit to stand trial - comes as the latest twist in the long legal battle.

On 12 January 1998, human rights lawyers submitted the first of more than 70 lawsuits against Gen Pinochet.

Mr Guzman was appointed to take charge of the investigation. His role was to determine whether there was a case against the former military leader.

For several months, his investigation was little more than a curiosity for most Chileans, who were sure that it would amount to nothing.

Then in October 1998, Gen Pinochet was arrested in London on the order of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

Suddenly, Juan Guzman's own investigation developed critical importance.

Gen Augusto Pinochet in 1997
October 1998: Police in UK arrest Pinochet on Spanish warrant; long legal battle over fitness for trial
March 2000: Deemed unfit for trial, returns home; days later effort begins to try him in Chile
August 2000: Supreme Court strips his immunity; later declared fit to stand trial
July 2001: Charges suspended and later dropped on grounds of health
May 2004: Court strips Pinochet of immunity from prosecution over fresh charges

The Chilean government said that there was no need for Augusto Pinochet to be tried in Europe, since the country already had a judge perfectly capable of putting the military leader on trial in his own country.

During this time, Juan Guzman said little.

He even did his best to play down expectations - he told one interviewer that he could never see himself actually getting to the stage of interrogating Gen Pinochet.

Newspapers began to run profiles of him. He was portrayed as quiet-spoken - a much respected judge with a deep love of poetry, art and music.

But many legal experts in Chile said that Juan Guzman's investigation was futile.

They said that the scope of the 1978 amnesty law, together with Gen Pinochet's parliamentary immunity as a senator-for-life and the possible intervention of military tribunals, meant that progress towards a trial was extremely unlikely.

Caravan of Death

But in June 1999, the situation began to change.

Juan Guzman ordered the arrest of five retired military officers - including a general - for their part in a military squad whose exploits became known in Chile as the Caravan of Death.

The members of this squad are accused of travelling the country in October 1973 shortly after the coup and killing more than 70 opponents of the military government.

Juan Guzman secured the arrests by applying a new interpretation of the 1978 amnesty law.

He argued that since many of the bodies of the military squad's victims were still missing, it could be argued legally that these people were still kidnapped.

Therefore, Mr Guzman argued, the crime was continuing and the amnesty law could not be applied until the bodies were found.

These arrests focused attention on Juan Guzman's investigation. Many in Chile began to take his efforts much more seriously.

Unanswered questions

In November 1999 - while Augusto Pinochet was still in London - Juan Guzman sent the general a list of 75 questions.

A woman holds pictures of the "disappeared"
More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared under Pinochet

The general wrote back saying that he could not answer the questions while he was under arrest in a foreign country.

But on the general's return on 3 March 2000, Judge Guzman acted quickly.

Human rights lawyers asked him to submit a request for Augusto Pinochet's parliamentary immunity to be lifted. He did so just three days later.

After several months of deliberations, Chile's Supreme Court in August stripped Gen Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution.

In December, Mr Guzman formally charged Gen Pinochet with kidnapping during his 1973-1990 rule, and questioned him for two hours the following month after doctors said the general was fit to undergo interrogation.

In January, the general was placed under house arrest on Mr Guzman's order.

A Chilean court in July suspended the charges against Gen Pinochet, ruling that he was unfit to stand trial. Legal experts said the move meant the general was unlikely to stand trial on any of the charges he faces in Chile.

'Operation Condor'

But in May 2004 - in a move that surprised many legal experts - Chile's court stripped Gen Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution.

Unlike previous cases, the latest lawsuit against Gen Pinochet refers to what was known as Operation Condor - a conspiracy by six South American regimes in the 1970s to hunt down and kill their left-wing opponents.

Despite the recent progress in Judge Guzman's investigation, some Chileans are still sceptical.

Many think that the armed forces will never allow their former commander in chief to be tried.

But Judge Guzman's investigation has gone much further than anyone could have imagined recently.

And Mr Guzman has the support of a growing number of Chileans who now want to see their former military leader stand trial.


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