The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights

The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights

The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights

The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights


The 1998 arrest of General Augusto Pinochet in London and subsequent extradition proceedings sent an electrifying wave through the international community. This legal precedent for bringing a former head of state to trial outside his home country signaled that neither the immunity of a former head of state nor legal amnesties at home could shield participants in the crimes of military governments. It also allowed victims of torture and crimes against humanity to hope that their tormentors might be brought to justice. In this meticulously researched volume, Naomi Roht-Arriaza examines the implications of the litigation against members of the Chilean and Argentine military governments and traces their effects through similar cases in Latin American and Europe.

Roht-Arriaza discusses the difficulties in bringing violators of human rights to justice at home, and considers the role of transitional justice in transnational prosecutions and investigations in the national courts of countries other than those where the crimes took place. She traces the roots of the landmark Pinochet case and follows its development and those of related cases, through Spain, the United Kingdom, elsewhere in Europe, and then through Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States. She situates these transnational cases within the context of an emergent International Criminal Court, as well as the effectiveness of international law and of the lawyers, judges, and activists working together across continents to make a new legal paradigm a reality. Interviews and observations help to contextualize and dramatize these compelling cases.

These cases have tremendous ramifications for the prospect of universal jurisdiction and will continue to resonate for years to come. Roht-Arriaza's deft navigation of these complicated legal proceedings elucidates the paradigm shift underlying this prosecution as well as the traction gained by advocacy networks promoting universal jurisdiction in recent decades.


The arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London in October 1998 electrified the world. Pinochet was, after all, a symbol of the dictatorships that had plagued much of the world during the 1970s and 1980s. All that had gone wrong in that era, in Chile and elsewhere, was captured in a photograph. A stern group of officers flanks General Pinochet, in dark glasses and uniform, arms crossed, who stares implacably into the camera, daring anyone to challenge him. That image, flashed across the world, became the dark symbol of a dark era. Maybe that’s why, a quarter-century later, it retains its potency. The story of the general’s downfall has the same end-of-an-era resonance.

I was a college student when Salvador Allende, a doctor and a Socialist, was elected president of Chile in 1970. His experiment creating democratic socialism came to a bloody end in September 1973. After months of plotting the military staged a coup, supported by opposition political parties, the United States, the business sector and a good part of the Chilean middle class. Allende killed himself as the presidential palace was strafed by the Air Force; Congress was dissolved, the Constitution was suspended, and a military junta ruled by decree. The Junta soon came to be dominated by General Augusto Pinochet, whom Allende had appointed as army chief. Pinochet centralized control, created a separate secret police under his personal jurisdiction, and eventually had himself named President and head of the Armed Forces. Under his dictatorship, some five thousand people were killed, over a thousand detained and disappeared, tens of thousands were imprisoned and tortured or forced into exile. After the first years of dictatorship, the crimes became more selective. Requests to the courts for writs of habeus corpus routinely went unanswered. Families were told that their loved ones had no doubt left the country, taken new lovers, been mowed down in military confrontations or internecine squabbles of the left. Fear clamped down on Chile. Those who were killed, it was said, had deserved what they got; their families were shunned, neighbors divided, the press silenced. It lasted, in all, seventeen years.

Many of those who fled the Allende debacle found refuge, at first, in neighboring Argentina. But soon, and especially after 1975, the Argen-

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