Home > Centre for the Study of Human Rights > Events > Prosecuting Pinochet: the challenges and obstacles to the pursuit of justice in Chile

Prosecuting Pinochet: the challenges and obstacles to the pursuit of justice in Chile

Speaker: Professor David Sugarman, University of Lancaster
Chair: Professor Stan Cohen, Centre for the Study of Human Rights
March 2006


When Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet returned to Chile in March 2000, following his 18 month detention in Britain, many wondered whether Chile's Government would live up to its claim that Pinochet could and would be fairly tried at home. In this seminar, Professor Sugarman will describe and analyse the struggle to prosecute Pinochet in Chile since he returned home, and its implications.

In so doing, the seminar will seek to make an empirically-based contribution to the largely theoretical debates concerning: the interaction between law and politics; the judicialisation of power; the efficacy of human rights, and the ability of courts, activist lawyers and social movements to find new paths to substantive justice; globalisation; the denial of organised atrocities and the struggle to acknowledge the past; and the impact of international (i.e., third country) as distinct from domestic accountability.

"This is a fascinating period in Chile 's history", says Professor Sugarman. "Until relatively recently it was unthinkable that Pinochet could be brought to trial in his own county, but gradually the tide seems to be turning. Now the courts have lifted his legal immunity and declared him fit to stand trial. After more than 30 years of struggle, Pinochet is closer than ever to being brought to justice. This opens the door to further questions being asked about the Pinochet years and those people who actively participated in his regime."

Professor David Sugarman is one of the UK 's leading authorities on attempts to prosecute former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet for human rights abuses. His forthcoming book - Pursuing Pinochet: A Global Quest for Justice - analyses the local and transnational struggles since 11 September 1973 to bring former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, to justice at home and abroad, and their consequences. Professor Sugarman has conducted more than 300 interviews in 11 countries with key players ranging from senior politicians, top judges and lawyers to the military, NGOs and victims of Pinochet's regime.

In December 2000, Pinochet was first indicted in Chile for human rights crimes. Professor Sugarman was in Chile at the time, and dined with the investigating judge the evening before Pinochet's indictment. In September 2005, Pinochet was stripped of his legal immunity in the Operation Columbo human rights case by Chile 's Supreme Court. Professor Sugarman was invited to attend the court proceedings, and interviewed leading figures including the President of the Supreme Court, the lawyers involved, the Head of the Armed Forces and the judges investigating Pinochet's financial crimes.

Professor Sugarman is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has published 15 books (including sole authored books, edited and co-edited books and special issues of law reviews) and written more than 65 articles, essays and review essays. He has also commented on the Pinochet saga for The Times, The Guardian, CNN and Channel Four News.