Wednesday, December 8, 2010

French court tries Pinochet-era officials

Former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet may be deceased but some of his cohorts have been pursued by the long arm of the law. In the latest case, fourteen former officials including an ex-defense minister and the former chief of the secret police are being tried in absentia in a French court.

The defendants, who include an Argentine, were accused of numerous charges including the kidnapping and torture of four Frenchmen who disappeared in Chile between 1973 and 1975. Among the four “vanished” men is a former priest as well as two members of a Chilean leftists party arrested as part of the infamous Operation Condor.

Approximately thirty witnesses are expected to appear at the trial that began today and is planned to end on December 17th. The trial is based on complaints filed in 1998 by the victims' families, and originally included indictments against five people who were alive at the time including Pinochet.

According to an article by France24, the lawsuit takes advantages of several unique aspects of the French legal system:
The country’s criminal code can be applied to foreigners guilty of crimes committed against French citizens outside its borders. In addition, French judges have accepted that the forced disappearances constitute a “continuous crime” against the four victims and have cancelled the statute of limitations that would have exempted the accused from trial.
Some of the accused are already serving short prison sentences in South America while others live freely in Chile. Though they probably will not serve additional prison time if the defendants are convicted, lawyers for families of the disappeared men hope this can bring justice to their presumably dead loved ones. "Of course, Chile does not extradite its nationals, but Chile will be their prison - and if they cross a border, they will be arrested," said a lawyer representing one of the family members to BBC News.

Image- Reuters via BBC News (“The trial is being attended by families of the four French citizens who disappeared.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, NPR, France24

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