Rights Case News
Again Strips Pinochet of Immunity from Prosecution
Supreme Court Postpones Decision on Sandoval
Again Strips Pinochet of Immunity from Prosecution
May 28, 2004
(Look for more details about this hearing in Memoria y
The Santiago court building today was the scene of surprising
news for the families of human rights victims. While the Supreme
Court in Full Session postponed a resolution in the decisive
Miguel Angel Sandoval Rodriguez case due to procedural considerations,
the Full Session of the Appeals Court gave its solid approval
to a petition to strip Augusto Pinochet of immunity in the
Operation Condor case.
Some 100 relatives of persons executed or forcibly disappeared
accompanied by lawyers and human rights activists had gathered
to attend the hearing of the Full Supreme Court. At the other
end of the court building only a handful of journalists waited
outside the chambers of the Santiago Appellate Court. After
the rejection of two petitions to deprive Pinochet of immunity
following the Supreme Court decision in July 2002 to temporarily
dismiss proceedings for dementia, expectations were not high.
When the Appellate Court reporter announced that the judges
had voted 14-9 to accept the request to strip Pinochet of
immunity once more, family members burst into spontaneous
applause and shouts of joy, echoed in greater volume by the
500 supporters gathered on the street outside the court.
The Pinochet defense team has 5 days to file an appeal, which
will be heard by the Supreme Court within a month.
In the immunity hearing of December 2002 related to the Carlos
Prats case, Appeals Court judges favoring removal of immunity
numbered no more than five. Subsequently, in the Calle Conferencia
case immunity hearing of October 2003, the number increased
to 8 judges. The resounding vote in the Operation Condor case
today may be an indication of a greater consensus in the Court
of Appeals that they should not continue to evade prosecuting
Pinochet for human rights crimes committed by the military
regime he headed during 17 years.
Plaintiff attorney Eduardo Contreras, who also participated
in three previous immunity hearings, believes that the evidence
against Pinochet is more solid than in any of the previous
cases. In fact, Chilean Code of Civil Procedure requires probable
cause of participation in a crime in order to deprive an official
Although the Appeals Court will not issue its written explanation
for the decision for another week, attorneys speculate that
a difference in emphasis may have been a factor. In Prats
and Calle Conferencia cases, the Court ruled that Pinochet
could not be deprived of immunity as former President due
to his mental incapacity. In the Operation Condor hearings,
attorney Juan Pavin pointedly reminded the judges that article
three of the Code of Civil Procedure establishes that immunity
hearings must be conducted on a case by case basis. Also,
procedurally, factors such as conditions of health must be
considered after immunity proceedings.
The sinister coordination of intelligence forces of six Latin
American countries during the mid1970s known as Operation
Condor was conceived and headed by the DINA. DINA director
Manuel Contreras answered directly to Junta President and
Army Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet.
The Operation Condor case was filed on behalf of 19 Chileans
who had been in Argentina and were either executed or disappeared
after arrest. The first case, which occurred in May 1975,
involved Jorge Fuentes Alarcon, Chilean courier of the MIR
who was arrested with Argentine Amilcar Santucho, as their
bus crossed the Paraguayan border from Argentina. Declassified
U.S. State Department documents show that the head of Paraguayan
intelligence immediately informed FBI agent Robert Scherrer
in Buenos Aires. Scherrer then proceeded to inform intelligence
officials in Argentina and Chile. Shortly thereafter, security
agents from both countries traveled to Asuncion to participate
in torture and interrogation of their respective fellow citizens.
After enduring three months of torment, Fuentes was brought
to Villa Grimaldi, the secret torture and detention center
of the DINA in Santiago where he was last seen alive. The
arrest of Fuentes in Paraguay triggered a sequence of arrests
of Chileans in Buenos Aires. It also was a trial run for Operation
Condor, which was formalized six months later in November
Court Postpones its Decision in the Sandoval Case
The Full Session of the Supreme Court met today to consider
a motion to vacate filed by the defense of Manuel Contreras,
sentenced in January 2004 along with other high ranking former
officials of the DINA, for the abduction of Miguel Angel Sandoval
The motion to vacate, known as recurso de casacion in Chile,
is a legal instrument that seeks review of a ruling on the
grounds of an error of law. The hearing grants each attorney
a maximum of five minutes to plead his case.
Defense attorney Juan Carlos Manns filed for a motion to vacate
on the grounds of alleged inconsistency in court application
of Decree Law 2191, known as the amnesty law. The attorney
for the military defendants asks the Supreme Court to issue
an opinion to unify future decisions in human rights matters.
He cited as example a case brought against his client Manuel
Contreras that was dismissed in 1978 under the amnesty decree
Subsequently, plaintiff attorney Francisco Bravo pointed out
that the case has no relevance for the current situation,
as the Military Court dismissed it without ever investigating.
Plaintiff attorney Nelson Caucoto judge took the five minutes
allotted him to affirm that "There are no contradictory sentences."
On the contrary, he stated, "it has been absolutely resolved"
that the amnesty law does not impede investigation of crimes.
The fundamental point that both he and attorney Francisco
Bravo stressed was that the Second Criminal Chamber, not the
Full Supreme Court, has competency to hear the motion.
Upon conclusion of pleadings, Justice Hernan Alvarez announced
that the motion to vacate would be postponed until deciding
which instance of the Supreme Court should properly hear the
Should the Full Court defer to the Criminal Chamber, the hope
for a positive resolution may be greater from those judges
specialized in criminal law and with a high degree of conscience
regarding the preeminence of international law such as the
more information, see
Analysis of Ruling in Miguel Angel
to Human Rights Today