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International Justice: Progress made by Pinochet arrest ten years ago is under threat

A decade after the arrest of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in London sent a powerful warning to human rights abusers around the world, the rule of universal jurisdiction – under which he was detained – is at risk, Amnesty International warned today.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan said:

“The detention of Augusto Pinochet heralded a turning point in the practice of universal jurisdiction by recognising, for the first time, that heads of state are not above the law and could be arrested and tried internationally for crimes committed in their own country.

“Ten years later there remains a great deal to be done to fulfil the hope for justice created by the arrest of Pinochet. Thousands of perpetrators of human rights abuses are still at large, avoiding justice in safe havens around the world.”

Amnesty International has condemned the current failure to use universal jurisdiction to enforce international law when states where the crimes took place fail to investigate or prosecute. With only a small number of cases arrested and prosecuted since the landmark moment of Pinochet’s arrest. The organisation is calling for the adoption of effective laws that provide for universal jurisdiction and enable police and prosecutors to fulfil their duty.

Irene Khan continued:
“This is a time to remember the remarkable achievement of the relatives of Pinochet’s victims whose tireless efforts led to his arrest in 1998, under universal jurisdiction. This achievement set a precedent that the international community has a duty to build on, arresting and trying or extraditing people suspected of crimes under international law.”

The practice of international justice is also being undermined by attacks on the International Criminal Court for trying to reach the topmost levels of the government in Sudan. Further damage is being done by the campaign being led by Rwanda calling for the UN General Assembly to condemn ‘abuses’ of universal jurisdiction by foreign judges seeking to prosecute crimes committed in that country.

Today Amnesty International is publishing the first two papers, on Germany and Spain, in its No Safe Haven series of 192 on each country around the world. Each of these papers is designed as a tool for justice, with detailed information about how universal jurisdiction cases can be brought before national courts and calls on all states to enact effective universal jurisdiction legislation.

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