People celebrate the court's decision in London. / SUR

8 October 1999: UK court allows Pinochet's extradition

Spain had called for the former Chilean dictator to be extradited to stand trial for the torture of citizens, among other charges

NEVER MATTHEWS

In 1998, Senator Pinochet (Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte) of Chile travelled to the United Kingdom to undergo back surgery. His medical trip, however, resulted in arrest and, on 8 October the following year, a British magistrate allowed his extradition to Spain in a historic ruling. In the end, however, it was never carried out.

The army general, politician and military dictator ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990; his dictatorship was characterised by the systematic suppression of political parties and the persecution of dissidents to an extent unprecedented in the history of the country.

Overall, the regime left more than 3,000 dead or missing, tortured tens of thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile.

While Pinochet was in the UK, Spanish judicial authorities sought to bring him to Spain to stand trial for a large number of charges.

He was detained by the British authorities following Spain's extradition request in connection with the torture of Spanish citizens in Chile during his rule.

On 8 October 1999, London Magistrate Ronald Bartle committed General Augusto Pinochet for extradition to Spain, where he would stand trial for 34 counts of torture and one count of conspiracy to commit torture.

Bartle's ruling was especially significant for its treatment of the conspiracy charge and of the allegations of "disappearances" in Pinochet's regime.

For the magistrate to uphold these allegations was a historic acknowledgment of the families' continuing anguish.

Despite this, the extradition and the trial never went ahead. Chile suggested to the British Home Secretary that Pinochet's health had seriously deteriorated.

The former dictator challenged the extradition order and a court was scheduled to hear his appeal for unlawful imprisonment in March 2000.

However, after being examined by a panel of doctors appointed by the Home Secretary, he was ruled unfit to stand trial.

Pinochet returned to Chile.

Later in 2000, the Chilean Supreme Court indicted Pinochet on human rights abuses.

The ruling was subsequently overturned in 2002, only to be reinstated again in 2004, after the Supreme Court ruled that he was, after all, capable of standing trial.

He was placed under house arrest in November 2005 while awaiting trial, but died of a heart attack at age 91 on 10 December 2006, before full legal proceedings were under way.