Human Rights - Extradition, national leaders, and human rights

On 16 October 1998 Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón issued an extradition order for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was in Great Britain for medical treatment at the time. Although the British government eventually permitted Pinochet to return to Chile in March 2000 because of his supposed poor health, Britain's highest court, the Law Lords, had ruled on 24 March 1999 that the charges against Pinochet were so serious—including the murder and torture of Chileans—that they overrode defense counsel's argument that Pinochet was immune from prosecution under Britain's State Immunity Act of 1978. In short, Pinochet could be held legally accountable for his actions while head of state.

In 1999, Henry Kissinger published the third volume of his memoirs, in which he explained the reasons why the Nixon and Ford administrations supported Salvador Allende's overthrow in 1973 and then endorsed the regime under General Pinochet that followed. First, he asserted that the dangers posed by communist expansion in the Western Hemisphere were real, citing Fidel Castro in Cuba and leftist guerrilla activities elsewhere. Second, Kissinger argued that Allende was determined to destroy the democratic institutions in Chile and replace them with a communist dictatorship. Kissinger's defense thus turned on denying involvement in Allende's overthrow and recalling the Cold War context to justify supporting Pinochet.

The Pinochet ruling in Britain gave some officials reason for pause: the United States has held other nations and their leaders accountable for violating human rights, but eventually American leaders may be placed under the same microscope. There is something very chilling, and quite healthy and appropriate, about the prospect of some deliberative body being able to sit in judgment of actions taken by the United States. The notion that American leaders will be held accountable for violating human rights is certainly dim, but such accountability would bring equity to the way in which human rights violations are handled around the world.

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