Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet: Justice delayed was justice denied

The death of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on Sunday, eight years after his arrest on an international warrant in London in 1998, but before any trial where Pinochet was held accountable for crimes his government committed during its 1973-1990, was a final slap in the face of the estimated 3,000 people killed or disappeared and 28,000 tortured during the regime's tenure. The death of Pinochet, coming on the heels of the March 2006 death of former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic before a resolution in the latter's war crimes trial at the Hague for actions taken during the Bosnian wars of the 1990s, should serve as a reminder to people of the toll on historical memory when, as Chilean human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez, said, "(the) criminal has departed without ever being sentenced for all the acts he was responsible for."

The cases still pending are a myriad: That of Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, whose1982–1983 military regime killed tens of thousands of people, many of them from Guatemala's indigenous population, many of them civilians, and who has never seen trial for those acts; the former officials of the government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who oversaw several massacres of government opponents in Haiti during its 2001-2004 existence (the most notorious being that in the northern city of Saint-Marc in February 2004), hundreds of politically-related murders and illegal detentions and the illegal arming and organizing of civilian gangs; in our own nation, officials from George W. Bush on down have yet to face trial for waging an illegal war based on a foundation of lies in Iraq, overseeing the use of torture and illegal detention and leaving the citizens of New Orleans to drown during Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005.

As I have written before, at moments like this, I recall Eric Pierre, a 27-year-old medical student from the southern Haitian town of Jacmel, who was shot and killed while leaving the Faculté de Medicine in Port-au-Prince on 7 January 2003 by attackers who fled the scene in a car with official TELECO plates. In a notebook of his thoughts Pierre was carrying at the time, there was written the following words:

Justice, quand?

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