Britain should not extradite former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet to any country except Chile. Pinochet seized power from Marxist Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in 1973 and began an extensive and bloody anti-communist campaign. During his 17 years as Chile’s head of state, more than 3,000 people died or “disappeared.”
A Spanish court recently issued a warrant for his arrest. The charges were mass murder and terrorism carried out against Spanish civilians living in Chile during the Pinochet regime. Britain, where the general is recovering from back surgery, has until Dec. 11 to decide on its course of action. It cannot acquiesce to Spain’s request for his extradition to stand trial.
Pinochet is a murderer. He is a ruthless and brutal man. He should be tried for what he did, but it should be in a Chilean court, not a Spanish one or in any other foreign nation.
On the surface, the Pinochet question seems to be one of simple morality, but it is the consequences that are truly important here. If Britain allows one nation, acting unilaterally, to try a foreign former head of state, the idea of national sovereignty will be faced with unprecedented dangers.
Regardless of his victims’ nationality, Pinochet committed his crimes on Chilean soil where only Chilean courts can distribute justice. Spain’s jurisdiction, or any other nation’s, does not travel with its citizens, but is defined clearly and legally by its borders. If Britain fails to recognize the sanctity of a nation’s autonomy and right to self-rule, other countries will have new precedence to unilaterally demand the extradition of a foreign head of state when they are overseas.
Disregarding national sovereignty has done little for anyone. It permitted the United States to prop up Pinochet and the Shah in Iran. The Soviet Union ignored autonomy when it supported a communist regime in Afghanistan, oppressed democracy in Czechoslovakia and kept Fidel Castro in power in Cuba.
Together these authoritarian governments killed thousands. Are we now supposed to run all over the world under the guise of moral righteousness putting each and every tyrant on trial, thereby further undermining the notion of national sovereignty?
If Spain can try Pinochet, will Iraq be allowed to demand the extradition of Clinton for bombing Iraqi citizens? Or will Grenada be permitted to demand that Reagan stand trial for ordering an American invasion in 1983? National sovereignty must be preserved. No country has the right to try another’s head of state.
What the international community should do is draft a covenant whereby all signers agree not to permit any former dictator to travel across or over their borders, no matter what the reason. Former Ugandan strongman Idi Amin lives in Saudi Arabia and Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier lives in France.
No human being deserves to live under the boot of dictatorship, and the democratically elected governments of the world must send a message that tyranny will not be tolerated. Murderers and oppressors cannot and should not be given asylum. They must be held accountable for the crimes they perpetrated and oversaw.
Freedom and independence are wonderful ideas. Pinochet took them from his people, but now in the name of justice, the Spanish courts wish to rob Chile of its sovereign right to try its criminals. Britain cannot concede extradition but instead must return Pinochet to Chile where one day he hopefully will be made to answer for his transgressions .
-The writer is a freshman majoring in Russian and Eastern European studies.