From Pirates to Pinochet: Universal Jurisdiction for Torture

Document Type

Contribution to Book

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Taylor & Francis (Routledge)

Source Publication

Politics of the Globalization of Law

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On March 24, 1999, Great Britain’s highest court ruled that former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet could be extradited to Spain to answer criminal charges of human rights violations committed under his rule. The decision capped a groundbreaking episode in the history of international justice: never before had a former head of state been subjected to criminal proceedings based on the principle of universal jurisdiction (Kaleck 2009, 928; Penrose 2000, 207). The principle allows the domestic courts of one state to prosecute other states’ citizens regardless of where the crimes in question were committed or the nationality of the victims (Randall 1987). Six months earlier Pinochet had been arrested in a London hospital, where he had come to receive medical treatment. The arrest was initiated by an extradition request issued by a Spanish judge charging Pinochet with various human rights violations. 1 Pinochet’s arrest led to a series of hearings that culminated in the unprecedented March 1999 decision affi rming that Pinochet’s status as a former head of state did not entitle him to the sort of offi cial immunity traditionally recognized by international law, thus paving the way for his extradition to Spain (“Pinochet III” 1999). 2 The “Pinochet precedent” inspired a wave of mobilization and litigation by lawyers, judges, and civil society activists in Europe and elsewhere seeking accountability for past wrongs, as well as giving former leaders around the world new reason to fear traveling abroad (Robertson 2006, 362-363; Roht-Arriaza 2005).


"From Pirates to Pinochet: Universal Jurisdiction for Torture," in The Politics of the Globalization of Law Getting from Rights to Justice by Alison Brysk. Routledge, 2013: 83-106. DOI.