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Declarations & Statements


The Financial Times, 15.9.99

SPAIN: Pinochet arbitration rejected. By David White in Madrid

Spain yesterday said it had rejected Chile's call for international arbitration in the case of Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, less than two weeks before UK court hearings on his extradition for trial in Madrid.

Abel Matutes, Spain's foreign minister, told a parliamentary committee that he had explained to his Chilean counterpart, Juan Gabriel Valdés, that the government had no room for manoeuvre on the issue.

He described arbitration as "unviable" because the government could not interfere with the judicial process already under way against General Pinochet, charged with human rights abuses during his 1973-90 rule.

But he said Madrid was prepared to co-operate if Chile carried out its threat to take the dispute over jurisdiction in the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

At the same time he made clear the Madrid government's acute discomfort over the prospect of a Pinochet trial, calling in party representatives yesterday morning to ask them to moderate their statements on the case. They should be careful, he said, not to obstruct the rebuilding of democracy in Chile or undermine ties between the two countries.

Mr Matutes said Chile raised the idea of arbitration five months ago and the Spanish government considered referring the question to the Council of State, the country's top consultative body. But this proposal was overtaken by a formal request from Mr Valdés earlier this month to start immediate talks on arbitration.

"There will be discussions, but there can be no arbitration," Mr Matutes told the committee.

Chile made its request under the UN Convention against Torture, which provides for the possibility of arbitration - and, failing that, recourse to the International Court - in the event of disputes about how the treaty should be applied.

The UK has accepted that Gen Pinochet, who is 83, may be liable to extradition for torture cases alleged to have taken place after Britain and Chile ratified the treaty in 1988.

Legal reports commissioned by the Spanish foreign ministry argued that government-level arbitration could not override the judicial process launched by Baltasar Garzón, the investigating magistrate, who ordered Gen Pinochet's arrest in London last October.

Mr Matutes said Spain had always sought to show strict respect for the independence of the justice system, while trying to keep cordial relations with Chile.

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