Latin America: the end of immunity

20 September 2004 by INGRID SEYMAN

The tide seems to have turned for former South American dictators. Argentina's Supreme Court has just accepted the imprescriptibility of a crime against humanity, while in Chile a trial looks likely for Augusto Pinochet after the former dictator was stripped of his immunity on 26 August.

The Supreme Court in Santiago stripped Pinochet of the special immunity he has enjoyed until now, thus clearing the way for charges to be brought against the ex-dictator in the case known as "Operation Condor". Although the Supreme Court confirmed the Appeals Court's judgement of 28 May, 2004, the news came as a bombshell in Chile. Back in August 2000, the same Chilean court stripped Pinochet of his immunity for the first time, allowing judge Juan Guzman Tapia to indict the General in the "Caravan of Death" case. Pinochet narrowly escaped having to face the charges in Chilean courts after medical examinations deemed him unfit for trial. On 9 July 2001, the Santiago Appeals Court decided to shelve the trial on grounds that Pinochet was suffering mild dementia and was therefore not fit to defend himself. A year later, the Supreme Court ratified the ruling, decreeing that the elderly man's dementia was "irrevocable".

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