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Declarations & Statements


The Independent, 3.3.00

Straw defends decision to let General Pinochet go home. By Sarah Schaefer, Political Reporter

Jack Straw came under fire from all sides over his decision to release General Pinochet yesterday as he insisted he had acted in a "fair and rational way in accordance with the law".

In a Commons statement, the Home Secretary said that, however desirable, it was "simply no longer possible" on medical grounds to force the former Chilean dictator to stand trial.

The "lasting legacy" of the 17-month case was the establishment of the principle that those who commit human rights abuses in one country "cannot assume they are safe elsewhere".

The Extradition Act is now over a decade old and it is time to review it, he said. A consultation paper will be published on options for streamlining extradition procedures.

Mr Straw rejected claims that General Pinochet would make a "miraculous recovery" once back in Chile, stressing that "no significant improvement in his condition could be expected. Throughout, I have been keenly aware of the gravity of the crimes allegedly committed by Senator Pinochet and of the desire for justice by those who suffered at the hand of the former Chilean regime," he said.

The Lords judgment a year ago, denying General Pinochet blanket immunity, was "a landmark judgment in human rights law, whose impact has been felt far beyond our shores. It will be a permanent legacy of the Pinochet case."

Mr Straw said he had received 70,000 letters and e-mails from round the world about the case, almost all of them urging him to allow extradition to proceed.

"I am all too well aware that the practical consequence of refusing to extradite Senator Pinochet to Spain is that he will probably not be tried anywhere.

"I am very conscious of the sense of injury which is bound to be felt by those who suffered from breaches of human rights in Chile in the past, as well as their relatives.

"All of these are matters of great concern and I had them very much in mind when considering the evidence about Senator Pinochet's state of health. Ultimately, however, I was driven to the conclusion that a trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible."

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, challenged Mr Straw over the full cost, expected to be millions, of the case. "I am sure that I speak for many when I welcome the fact that we have a final decision in this case, which has mainly been characterised by muddle, contradiction and delay."

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said: "Many people in this country and around the world feel a sense of shame at the news that Pinochet has now left British airspace and is therefore free from any likelihood of prosecution in any court anywhere in the world.

"This is a man who hasn't faced justice, he's avoided justice," Mr Corbyn said. "He's lived in luxury and gone through the courts here - none of his victims ever had the chance to go to court or be represented anywhere, they were merely shot and murdered during his disgraceful regime."

But Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot, said he welcomed the fact that General Pinochet - "a true friend of the UK" - had been returned to Chile, which was the "proper forum" for allegations against him to be heard. It was "unacceptable" that the Home Secretary had been obliged to extend "the incarceration of Britain's only political prisoner at the behest of foreign governments", he said.

Patrick Nicholls, the Tory MP for Teignbridge, added: "The reason why you sought medical evidence ... wasn't your concern about Senator Pinochet's human rights but the dawning realisation of the nightmare that would descend upon you if Senator Pinochet died in our jurisdiction."

Glenda Jackson, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate, said: "It was not only shabby but entirely predictable that the Conservative Party should continue to act as apologists for murderers and torturers."

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