Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, has been deemed ill-fit to stand trial by Britain and released to return to Chile. Those who clamored for his arrest and prosecution groan in dismay, as a brutal dictator has gotten away with murder and torture. Maybe not, as the government of Chile is considering prosecuting its ex-strong man, in violation of the immunity agreement made with him upon his stepping down.
The forces who set out to bring him to justice feel that they have won a small victory. Britain did say that without his failing health, Pinochet would have been extradited. Proponents of his extradition claim that this sent a message to brutal dictators everywhere that they have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Well, the problem is that this is more of a defeat for human rights than a victory. While former brutal dictators may now quake in fear that their host countries will turn them over, a different message goes out to those who are still in power. I am talking about the Slobodan Milosevics and Saddam Husseins of the world.
To a dictator in power who has executed or tortured opponents, there is only one lesson to be learned here. Never, ever, give up power. So long as you are head of state, you are safe. Even if your state or other states make a deal of immunity so that democracy can rule in your country, somewhere down the road, someone is going to break that promise. With Chile considering prosecuting its ex-dictator, one cannot even believe its own people. If a government rises with whom you are unpopular with, your immunity agreement ends up being just a scrap of paper. Fight to the last man, and never lose your grip on power.
What does this mean? We now cannot negotiate with such men to step down peacefully, so that a controlled transition to democracy can take place. Not that this happens all that often, but Pinochet was the example that it can and does happen. Now, only bloody civil wars and military coups can bring down dictators, and these quite often leave just another brutal regime in power instead of more democratic elements.
This is not an apology or a dismissal of the thousands that Pinochet murdered or tortured. However, it is better to let strongmen step down peacefully, not only so a transition to democracy can come more surely and with less bloodshed, but so that the murder and torture can be stopped. These developments in international law will not deter a single dictator from murder or torture, as none expect to step down and must use violence to maintain their hold on power. It will only deter them from stepping down, except at gunpoint.
More murder, more torture, more bloodshed. All to prosecute a senile, old former dictator who is almost dead anyway.
-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs.