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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Pinochet unfit for trial: Has justice failed?

An appeals court in Chile has ruled that the country's former military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, is mentally unfit to stand trial for alleged human rights abuses.

Although technically Monday's ruling only delays the legal process until General Pinochet's condition improves, prosecuting lawyers say his age means the case has effectively been abandoned.

Human rights lawyers said Chilean courts had a long way to go "to really make justice" and expressed doubts about the general's real condition.

But General Pinochet's supporters insist his health is rapidly deteriorating and quote British and Chilean medical reports to that effect.

Has there been a failure of justice? Or should an ailing 85-year-old be left alone?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I know that the legal process rarely works to the complete satisfaction of anyone

Kevin Rardin, USA
It is tragic that time and politics have combined to apparently ensure that General Pinochet will never be held fully accountable for actions in a court of law. However, as a lawyer, I know that the legal process rarely works to the complete satisfaction of anyone. Still, the effort to strip away the immunity Pinochet crafted for himself was not in vain. The decision in the House of Lords strengthened the fundamental principle that no one, not even a head of state, is above the law.
Kevin Rardin, USA

Pinochet was the blunt instrument wielded by the United States, the UK and their allies. Perhaps it is they who should be brought to account for the misery that their blatant interference caused and is still causing around the world.
David, Scotland

After reading the comments from the majority of my fellow Brits it would appear that I come from a nation of people who consider the fight against communism to be wrong. It is also interesting to note that there is far more outcry from the bored citizens of liberal nations in Europe than there is in Chile.
Gary, US (originally US)

To Mirek Kondracki. Chile was a successful pluralist democracy until the CIA involved themselves and sparked/ sponsored Pinochet's coup. Please remember Allende was ELECTED into office by a poplar vote. America's sordid promotion of this murderous affair needs to be analysed - Pinochet was a puppet whose moves were mastered by American foreign policy, covert or otherwise. The murderers here can be found closer to Washington than Santiago.
Al, Scotland

Discretionary justice is no justice at all

Gordon, USA
Will people stop talking about left and right, socialism and capitalism? Pinochet is a murderer. Period. If he can't stand trial his actions and the atrocities should be investigated. Discretionary justice is no justice at all. God bless all those who were killed, tortured and raped. Sad, very sad.
Gordon, USA

Pinochet has got away with it again. It was a day of shame for this country when we let him go. We should have handed him over to the Spaniards, who were at least trying to prosecute the man responsible for the deaths of their citizens. Maybe the correspondents from the US should remember the Americans who died in Chile rather than spouting old Cold War CIA-inspired rubbish about the communist threat.
George, London, UK

So Pinochet is unfit because of age or some other condition to face justice for his crimes. The same happens regularly in our country - young thugs who maim and inflict horrendous injuries escape justice because they are under an arbitrarily defined age and therefore deemed inculpable. If you have committed crimes you should stand trial. I am sure the victims didn't get lenience because they too were frail.
John B, UK

Pinochet defended his country from Communism. If only people in Communist and formerly Communist countries had men like Pinochet ready to take up arms in defence against Communism, this world would be a better place.
Daniel Rego, USA

If the Chileans have now decided it's all gone far enough, then who are we to judge?

Steve, UK
Those who cite Mao, Stalin and Castro as just as bad if not worse than Pinochet obviously have a valid point, but ought to start thinking outside of the box; there should be NO justification for taking life whatever the "crusade" happens to be. The USA is just as culpable - what about the Vietnam war for example? We can all cite such examples of pet injustices depending on whether we lean to the "right" or "left" and often it just comes down to a matter of scale, but surely human rights are indivisible however many people have been killed? If the relatives of the disappeared in Chile wanted Pinochet prosecuted so be it, but if the Chileans have now decided it's all gone far enough then who are we to judge?
Steve, UK

It would seem that most American commentators on this page have about as much knowledge of world affairs as George Bush. Firstly, the only coup d'etat in Chile was the murderous, CIA-sponsored one which put Pinochet in power and removed the democratically elected Allende government. Also, as Castro's Cuba is so often compared to Pinochet's Chile, it is worth pointing out that Cuba has the best health care and education programmes of any country in Latin America. Castro's democratic failings are far outweighed by the illegal sanctions imposed by the USA, probably the most dangerous "rogue state" in the world today.
Rob Williams, London, UK

A lot of the people who have posted comments seem to think this is about 'left' and 'right'. If torture, rape and murder are just words to you, I suggest you read some of the victims accounts, some neutral accounts, some of the writing by Mario Vargas Llosa (who is on the 'right' economically), before you dismiss them as a price to pay to prevent communism. How can forcing a man watch his wife being repeatedly raped and slowly killed ever be justified in economic terms? Pinochet was responsible for some of the most barbaric acts man has ever committed against man in his overthrow of a (albeit narrowly) democratically elected left-leaning government. The same acts, committed in the name of the left, would be equally abhorrent to those of us who realise that what is important is not macro-economic theory but how we treat the people around us.
Martin B, England

You cannot expect justice to be done for you when you are on the wrong side of the power scale. But Chile is quite below these considerations even. It is a shameful thing, but Pinochet has still a lot of day-to-day civilian supporters in this country. I even met a very young Chilean girl in London, back in 1979, who couldn't stand anyone saying anything wrong about "her" Pinochet. She must be one of those who nowadays wants everybody to let bygones be bygones. Even without justice, forgetfulness should be considered a sin
Ruben Cruz, Venezuela

Inability to stand trial does not imply innocence

Artem, USA
It is business as usual in Santiago. Nobody really cares about what's going on with the old man, and frankly, right and left-wingers are all just hoping that the old man will pass away so we can finally live in peace. Nobody's happy with the situation, not really about the trial, which we all know is some kind of show put on for the international community and the hard left-wingers who gave their votes to our socialist president, but rather about how just about every one around the world feels they have the right to scratch our wounds and rub salt on them, as if we didn't have enough pain to cope with. Chileans have acknowledged their past (Rettig report 1991), pretty much like the South Africans did at the end of apartheid. Now all we want is to forget and finally obtain some peace of mind. And to those like "Keith" from Switzerland, who go around criticising our system out of sheer boredom, I would suggest to pick up a history book, and buy a plane ticket to Chile, to see what is really going on there. It's not good to believe in everything the media tells you to believe in.
Edgardo, Chile

Fidel Castro has killed over a 100,000 people maintaining his "island paradise", and no one seems to care. Pinochet, and his followers, having seen what over a decade of communism had done in Cuba, two decades in China and five decades in Russia decided that a similar fate for Chile would not happen. The Soviets killed about 35 million, Mao killed (or they died of starvation)about 60 million. Pol Pot killed about 2 million. According to most records, about 3,300 were killed died (or disappeared) under the Pinochet regime, and Chile is a stable country.
Just who is the monster?
Wayne Martin, USA

Justice has failed once again. Pinochet must be punished for his misdeeds. The failure of the Chilean authorities to deal with Pinochet sends the wrong message to leaders who abuse power.
Ralph, USA

Why do I feel as if the CIA would have as much to fear from this trial as Pinochet himself. One has to ask how involved they were in stopping this.
Maggie M, USA

It is business as usual in Santiago

Edgardo, Chile
While I am troubled that a man like Pinochet appears to have avoided serious punishment for his crimes, I believe that often the most important thing is that a despot be removed from power (and thus the ability to cause more harm), quickly and with a minimum of further bloodshed. If allowing an old monster to live out his life outside of jail is the price that must be paid to avoid another decade of despotism or a desperate and bloody effort to retain power, who's to say that isn't sometimes the best choice?
Chuck, USA

Pinochet cannot and will not face any more left-wing vengeance. Done deal. Get over it. Go pester Castro if you want to go after a tyrant.

He does not look a bit like an "ailing" 85-year old to me. This is just another ploy by the right wing elite in Chile. If Milosevich can stand trial (rightly too), so can Pinochet, and while we are on this subject, Ariel Shaaron.
D Aramian, UK

I have never quite understood why the criminal always gets treated better than his victims in the judicial system of developped countries. There has most definitely been a total breakdown of the world's justice system. What a shame that Pinochet might walk off a hero when his victims blood cry in their graves. So similar to what is presently going on my country.
Jonathan Williams, Sierra Leonean in South Africa

Those who sanctimoniously call Pinochet a murderer conveniently forget that had it not been for him Chile would have been impoverished communist dictatorship with no civic freedoms whatsoever. Thanks to Pinochet Chile has today one of the most successful economies in South America and is a prime candidate for membership in NAFTA. I wonder whether people suffer from amnesia when they don't remember atrocities committed against Chileans and foreigners by communist guerrillas. History, as usual, is not black and white but grey, and having a choice between Allende and Pinochet I side with the latter.
Mirek Kondracki, US

Justice has failed once again

Ralph, USA
It's time to forget and forgive. Also, Pinochet's trial would have been a violation of human rights. He was arrested in Spain for crimes he committed in Chile and without an extradition request, then put under house arrest in Britain. If not because of his age, he should not stand trial because so many judicial procedures were bungled.
Jeff, USA

Let's hope he dies soon of a minor disease, as to avoid any kind of last minute martyrdom. He should be forgotten and disappear from the news at once, yet what he did as a wrongful soldier in the name of aristocracies, let that be remembered so it does not happen again.
J, Chile

It's interesting to see so many people whose faith in the justice system is based entirely on whether it produces a result they care for.
Jon Livesey, USA

It seems strange that only right-wing people are hunted down for trial. What about Russia, China, Cuba, and Eastern Europe? Never hear a thing do you? These countries killed millions upon untold millions. You know why? The Commies, now calling themselves social dems, are out to finish the commie agenda. Free people beware!!!
William Bellew, USA

Justice has finally triumphed in and for Chile. Most of the comments published about this case are nothing more than senseless recanting of totally inaccurate Socialist dogma about a failed communist Coup d' Etat similar to the fall of the Kerensky government in Russia. We all know how many people died under Josef Stalin and Lenin, Fidel's count is still ongoing. Maybe now the "New Golden Age of Human Rights For All" might now stand a chance of success without this as an example case which has actually been nothing more than a thinly disguised hunt for revenge by modern revisionists rather than a rational view of history.
Peter Rogers, Canada

It's time to forget and forgive

Jeff, USA
The amoral lawyers and physicians that got Pinochet off the hook are one part of a larger picture: The Chilean Establishment trying to keep from the public the unpleasant and damning truths that are likely to come out during such a trial. For this, if no other reason, a "Truth Commission" can be a much more satisfactory way of getting the past behind, than the regular course of justice, which is likely to be tainted by such past. What it takes is courageous people determined to see it happens. The past, however much hidden, does not go away. It is not a sleeping dog, but a vicious dog pretending to sleep.
Oscar L. Colombo, USA

The decision on Pinochet is disappointing but to be expected. Many in the UK were outraged by Margaret Thatcher's comments that it was okay, what he did as he was "fighting socialism". As our own tyrant once said she would like to rip up socialism by the roots perhaps it was a relief that the Conservative Party evicted her, as come an election had she lost, she may have felt no compunction to go, as "socialism has no mandate" does it.
Terry Miller , UK

You cannot fight for Human Rights by abusing somebody else's Human Rights. An Appeal Court in Chile has ruled that at this moment in time he is unfit to stand trial, the Prosecutor has an option to appeal to the Country's Supreme Court and has an opportunity to reinstate the charges if there is an improvement in his mental condition. Justice prevails and the human right to a FAIR trial has prevailed however some of the correspondents would have an UNFAIR trial and how does that help Human Rights. They would possibly also have sex to promote their virginity.
Phil Davies, UK

I was not surprised that Pinochet was declared unfit to stand trial; nor was I surprised when the British courts allowed him to leave the country. Pinochet was installed by the CIA, a willing servant of the American Empire; Chile and Britain both lie within that orbit today. What America wants, America gets.
Peter, Canada

I suppose the possibilities of seeing justice were perhaps just a dream. But here's an idea - let's get Henry Kissinger on the stand, nothing wrong with his heart, and we can finally give the CIA and US government a chance to wash the blood off their hands.
Ed, Brit in Italy

I am still trying to work out what the connection is between Law, The Courts and Justice. You may get Good LAW in Court, I have seldom seen Justice done.
Barry P, England

Justice has finally

Peter Rogers, Canada
I'm just 20 years old, so I'm a bit too young to remember any of the 70s' issues in discussion over the Pinochet trial. However, I try to see both sides of the matter and I really sympathise with General Pinochet. I was nine when he voluntarily gave up the power to civilians, and he was a pretty healthy man. Now, I see an 85-year-old man being prosecuted for 30-year-old bizarre issues. Those opposing him, in any ruling that goes against them will go "That's how justice works in Chile, we will never get a fair trial", and they wash their hands with it. Now then, let's use common sense to see if Justice has prevailed, and forget if he is General Pinochet or any other guy. Is an 85-year-old man, stressed, with diabetes and housebound fit to stand trial. In any democratic country in the world the answer is no. So what makes it different here in Chile? The ploy the communists so strongly talk about is the one they themselves are making, because they are making a living by putting salt in a 30-year-old wound, and they can still appear on the news. There is rule of law in my country and there has been a fair trial. President Lagos, a feverous opponent to the Pinochet rule has agreed with it, showing that he has some respect and common sense. Whether he did commit those murders or not, that is not the point. The point is that HE IS NOT FIT TO STAND TRIAL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. So let me ask General Pinochet's opponents: What about HIS human rights? They donīt care about the human rights, they only want revenge.
Roberto Perez, Chile

It would appear that whatever crime you commit you don't have to pay the price as long as you can avoid capture until you are a pensioner. Whether it's a train robber, a spy or the man responsible for genocide, as soon as they get their bus pass they are untouchable. Amazing!
Peter Robinson, England

It is never too late for justice to be done or seen to be done. If the dead could be tried and sentenced while they are in the next world, why should Pinochet who is still alive be left alone to die in peace. Is he being rewarded for being a friend of Maggie Thatcher and for his brutal repression of socialism and the popular will in Chile and the rest of Latin America during the 1970s?
Bailo, England

Pinochet is clearly guilty. I am no lover of Allende, but the bottom line is that every one of the 3,000 people Pinochet's regime caused to disappear had a right to live. HOWEVER, Pinochet is now 85-years-old. Most of the participants in this forum accuse Pinochet of feigning, while forgetting or unwilling to admit that at that age, one does not need to feign an illness. Whether he is guilty or not is irrelevant if he is unable to stand trial. If Pinochet is unable to comprehend the charges brought before him, and act in his own defence, this trial will turn into a farce, staining the very memory of the people murdered by his regime. Inability to stand trial does not imply innocence.
Artem, USA

Is he being rewarded for being a friend of Maggie Thatcher?

Bailo, England
Absolutely not! This case, as it stands, makes a mockery out of the international judicial system, which is presently making an example out of Milosevic, are we going to release Milosevic on "medical" grounds? Pinochet must be laughing "his head off". He did overthrow a potentially Communist president, and upset the democratic process. This is an outrage.
Peter Bolton, UK in US

Maybe if we caught these people when they are fairly young and carrying out these crimes, instead of waiting until they are old and incontinent, then justice may be served.
Mark R

We're pretty inconsistent about all this, aren't we? Pinochet is the devil incarnate and hounded by all right-thinking people; at the same time, Fidel Castro is applauded at the UN and lauded in The Guardian. But look at the history books: Castro killed as many people as Pinochet; political prisons are stuffed full in Cuba; according to Amnesty, torture is used on political dissidents; and Castro has not, to date, voluntarily relinquished power, re-instated private property, and freedom of thought and political expression.
Pinochet's coup was in reality a rightwing revolution, one of very few. And the regime that was overthrown was not cuddly and democratic, as Allende's aplogists imply. It was a proto Cuba. That doesn't excuse the brutality that was committed by Pinochet. But could it be that we don't really mind murder and repression if it's done by the Left?
James Featherstone, UK

There was never any chance of him standing trial in Chile

UE, Nigeria/ UK
There was never any chance of him standing trial in Chile. And if we did not know that much, Jeremy Corbin made that point before the British establishment allowed him to escape justice in Spain. Regrettably, these monsters never get to face justice; they are almost always able to exploit the same rights they never allowed others, to escape justice.
UE, Nigeria/ UK

All Pinochet needs to do is turn up at the courtroom and sit down. I'm sure the court could arrange for his hospital bed to be wheeled in for the duration.
David Heffron, UK

The only people to blame are the lawyers for they are replacing a democratic process with a two-tier system. One for the rich and famous, and another for the rest of us. Justice is dead - but who cares, as long as lawyers earn vast sums?
Jay, Wales

The whole thing seems a fallacy

Paul, France (originally UK)
The whole thing seems a fallacy. He very obviously has brilliant lawyers, who are more than able to present his side of the story to the court. He only needs to sit there and needn't give evidence if he really is too unfit. Then, if he is found guilty, he should be taken to a secure hospital. What's the problem?
Paul, France (originally UK)

Maybe if we caught these people when they are fairly young and carrying out these crimes, instead of waiting until they are old and incontinent, then justice may be served.
Mark R

Pinochet is a soldier who was fighting the Cold War supported by his western allies. After the war he became a liability.
Jennifer, UK

Disappointing, but if trying him meant bringing political instability to Chile, I can understand why they made this decision. Even so, this is about the only time I might be prepared to overlook my opposition to mob justice.
CNS, Durham, England

All that is asked is for him to stand trial and for the evidence and truth to emerge

Cynewulf, UK
Quite rightly, occasional old and senile alleged murderers from among the SS concentration camp guards are being rooted out of hiding and put on trial. The same should apply to Pinochet. The victims of his years of oppression were shown no mercy whatsoever. All that is asked is for him to stand trial, and for the evidence and truth to emerge. Quite possibly it might be embarrassing for those foreign governments who condoned his years of power. Whether, if convicted, he would be fit enough to serve his sentence is another story.
Cynewulf, UK

That Milosevic is tried while Pinochet goes free is ample demonstration of the fact that it is politics rather than justice which determines who will be brought to account for their activities. If there is any justice in the world, then the international community must bring pressure to bear on Chile to ensure that this vicious criminal stands trial.
Michael Entill, UK

Pinochet never cared about the health of those whom he made to disappear. Justice has not been done and I knew it wouldn't when he was allowed to go back to Chile. Britain beware: there are still a lot of politicians in this country who think Pinochet is all right!

Those who collaborated with, aided, abetted and sipped tea with Sgr Pinochet both inside and without Chile, are still at large and should be brought before either the Chilean courts or an international court of criminal justice.
Mohansingh, India

If he is not fit to stand trial then no trial could possibly be fair

Peter, Netherlands
Most contributors to this Talking Point seem not to make the distinction between Pinochet's criminal responsibility and his fitness to stand trial. It may well be so that he is responsible for atrocities - that is why he should, in principle, be put on trial. On the other hand, if he is not fit to stand trial then no trial could possibly be fair. The whole point is that proper and uniform standards should be applied to even the most unlikeable characters. One may have one's doubts about the decision of the Chilean appeals court, but on what hard evidence can one say that there has definitely been foul play?
Peter, Netherlands

It just seems incredible to me that feigning illness is the greatest way to escape justice these days. Owe your creditors a couple of billion? Feign illness to the Spanish courts! Are they seeking justice against your brutal regime in the 70s? Feign mental incapacity! It's so incredible that it works elsewhere but not in the US where the mentally incapacitated are still executed. Mark my words, if Slobodan Milosevic has any sense, this will be his defence within a year. We live in hope the International Court of Justice has better doctors and judges than in Chile.
Mike, Australia

I do not see how Britain can ever be called a lawful country when it contradicts itself so much

Stephanie Twidale, England
Hypocrisy - Pinochet is let free from this country due to special relationships he had with certain past prime ministers, yet this country insists on blasting Yugoslavia to pieces and blaming it all on one man who was head of state at a time when rebels where running rampant. I myself do not see how Britain can ever be called a lawful country when it contradicts itself so much.
Stephanie Twidale, England

None of our business really, but if we are to go after alleged criminals of this nature, we ought to be consistent. So, when can we expect Mr Mugabe, among others, to be issued with a writ?
Chris Klein, England

This unfit to stand trial stems from Saunders and the Guinness scandal. If amoral lawyers want to get you off they employ equally amoral doctors to say you're ill and hey presto no matter what you have done you get away with it. If you have committed a crime then frailty, ill health or anything else should not prevent your trial, it may affect the punishment, but not the trial.
Pierre, UK

Guilt is not removed merely by the passage of time

Ken Beach, Germany
Justice must be seen to be done. What happens is that in the course of time, atrocities are gradually forgotten and the mentality of "what good would it do now" begins to prevail. But the point is that if a leader is guilty of crimes of this magnitude, he or she should never be free from prosecution. Guilt is not removed merely by the passage of time. Whether or not it is still possible to prove someone's guilt is another issue.
Ken Beach, Germany

Pinochet was coherent enough to feign illness every time a critical juncture was imminent in his case. It is difficult to comprehend the despair and loss of faith in the justice system that his victims and their families must feel. The lesson from this exercise seems to be that even the most ruthless criminals will get off scot-free due to old age if their lawyers are shrewd enough to manipulate the justice system. Whether he is convicted or not, Pinochet's name will be associated with some of the most heinous crimes that the world has witnessed in the Cold War period. Let's move to the next level and indict his strong supporter Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State.
M MacDonald, Canada

Strange...when we on the verge of packing him off to Spain he seemed to suffer a similar episode of strokes and dementia. Course, I could just be an incredibly cynical person.
Neil Halliday, UK

Chile was going through a socialistic revolution when the general came in with the help of the CIA. Despite his shortcomings, I think Pinochet put the economy and democracy back into gear. He has to make an apology for families that were affected by "Operation Condor" before he dies. Otherwise, he should be left alone to live his remaining years in peace.
F, Canada

Justice has failed totally in my view

Keith, Switzerland
I don't believe for a second that he is mentally unfit to stand trial. He seems lucid enough to resist having to pay for his crimes against humanity!
Tom Archer, UK

Whether or not General Pinochet actually goes on trial is less important to future justice than the establishment that he can go on trial. From now on heads of government know that their actions in office will not be wiped off the record and they can be punished either at home or abroad. I do hope however that the setting aside of Gen. Pinochet's immunity does not prevent current leaders from moving towards free elections out of fear of the personal consequences.
Susan Smith, UK

Justice has failed totally in my view. He did not care too much about the state of the people he ordered to be killed during his regime. I don't understand how we can allow such things to go unpunished due to frailty or ill health. If he were a suspected nazi warm criminal he would not be allowed to go like this. All this says is that democracy and justice have not come very far in Chile since Pinochet!
Keith, Switzerland

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See also:

10 Jul 01 | Americas
'Unfit' Pinochet escapes trial
10 Jul 01 | Americas
Chileans seek life after Pinochet
03 Jul 01 | Americas
Opponents attack Pinochet 'ploy'

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