Gen. Augusto Pinochet arrived in London recently having no idea
that the legal equivalent of a giant target had been affixed to his
He knows it now. And so do the likes of Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein,
and Radovan Karadzic.
The arrest of Chile's former dictator in England at Spain's
request effectively put dictators, thugs, and terrorists on notice.
The world just became a more dangerous place for anyone accused of
committing crimes against humanity, according to experts in
Spain's pursuit of General Pinochet, if successful, will change
the landscape of human rights enforcement, making it increasingly
difficult for suspected war criminals, torturers, and practitioners
of genocide to travel abroad.
In Chile, he is immune from prosecution. But not in London, legal
experts say. And certainly not in Spain, which wants to try him on
charges of genocide, torture, and terrorism. "As soon as Pinochet
left Chile, he was fair game," says Paul Hoffman, a human rights
lawyer in Los Angeles and head of Amnesty International in the US.
Mr. Hoffman says under international law all nations have the
authority to arrest and put on trial someone accused of crimes
It is rare for states to act as boldly as has Spain with its
request for Pinochet's extradition from Britain. But human rights
activists say they are hopeful that other states will follow Spain's
"The message it sends to dictators and human rights abusers is
that you might have been able to get away with this and not face the
consequences in your own country, but don't think you are going to
come to our country and not have to pay the penalty," says Mark
an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Spain's move did not happen in isolation, Mr. Zaid and other
experts say. It is all part of a general worldwide trend toward
beefing up enforcement of human rights laws. Ad hoc war crimes
tribunals authorized by the United Nations are at work in both
and Rwanda, and negotiations are ongoing toward the establishment of
a permanent International Criminal Court that would prosecute
war criminals in future cases.
New laws in the US are permitting Americans to sue foreign
governments allegedly sponsoring terrorism that injure them or their
relatives. In three cases this past year, damage awards have been
made against Cuba and Iran. But the lack of diplomatic relations
between the US and those countries makes it unlikely the plaintiffs
In one indication of a major change in the international climate
concerning human rights and war crimes, President of Argentina
Menem earlier this year unilaterally offered to turn over to Israel
or any other interested country a Croatian who allegedly ran a camp
where tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, and Gypsies were killed
during World War II.
"All of that is contributing to a sense that at the start of the
21st century it is unacceptable for those accused of these crimes to
enjoy any benefit from impunity," says Richard Dicker, a lawyer at
Human Rights Watch in New York.
But some legal experts are questioning whether a Spanish
magistrate's charges that Pinochet engaged in terrorism and genocide
are an exaggeration that could undermine his case. …