Thursday, 30 October 2014

Pinochet's Nemesis, Dr Juan E. Garcés, to speak at Lancaster University

Dr Juan E. Garcés
Dr Juan E. Garcés is the Spanish lawyer who master-minded the arrest and detention of General Pinochet (Chile’s former dictator) in 1998, for massive violations of human rights.

He will speak about the struggle to bring dictators to justice in Spain and Latin America at Lancaster University on 6th November at 5pm in the Cavendish Colloquium Room (Faraday Building). This event is free and all are welcome.

Garcés is a recipient of the Alternative Nobel Prize (Sweden, 1999) and was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre Nationale du Mérite (France, 2000) "...for his long-standing efforts to end the impunity of dictators.”

Pinochet coup
When Salvador Allende became President of Chile in 1970, he invited Garcés to be his personal adviser. He was with the President when Chile's armed forces, led by General Augusto Pinochet, bombed the presidential palace. Garcés was the sole survivor among Allende's political advisers when the coup had run its course.

He was forced to leave Chile and went to France, where he worked as adviser to the Director General of UNESCO and the National Foundation of Political Science. In these years he wrote a number of books and articles about the Allende years. He returned to Spain after the fall of Franco, became a member of the Madrid Bar Association and set up a law firm.

Justice without frontiers
In 1985, a Spanish law was passed that permitted victims of crimes of genocide, terrorism and torture, whether Spanish nationals or not, and whether the crimes were committed in Spain or not, to seek justice in Spanish courts according to the principles of universal jurisdiction. Dr Garcés filed a criminal complaint against Pinochet for 'crimes against humanity' in July 1996.

Simultaneously a civil suit was filed on behalf of the families of victims of Pinochet's regime, who had been organised by and whose lawyers had been directed by Garcés. The Spanish courts accepted both suits.

London arrest
When Pinochet visited London in October 1998, Garcés sought his arrest and extradition to Spain to face trial. Pinochet was arrested but after months of legal battle, in which ex prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former US president George H W Bush both campaigned vigorously for his release, Home Secretary Jack Straw ruled in January 2000 that he should not be extradited, on grounds of ill health. He was released and returned to Chile.

Pinochet's immunity from prosecution in Chile was eventually lifted and he was rearrested there to be tried for his role in a very large number of political assassinations and other extreme human right violations. He died in 2006 before the case could come to court.

BAE Systems Bribes
One factor influencing Mr Straw's decision is thought to be the arms deal brokered by Pinochet between the Chilean army and British arms firm BAE Systems. This was also thought to be the real reason behind Pinochet's visit to the UK.  The Chilean Army reportedly spent $60 million on the Rayo rocket system in a joint-venture with BAE Systems starting in 1994, before eventually abandoning the project in 2003, after Pinochet's final arrest. In September 2005, a joint-investigation by The Guardian and La Tercera revealed that BAE Systems had paid more than £1m in bribes to Pinochet, through a front company in the British Virgin Islands, which BAE used to channel commission on arms deals. The payments began in 1997 and lasted until 2004.

Precedent established
The Pinochet case, and the precedent that it established, marked a breakthrough in the struggle against impunity in crimes against humanity and the corruption they engender. Since 2009, Garcés' legal work has sought to bring a number of such cases to justice, including the crimes against humanity committed under General Franco's Dictatorship. He is currently advising on cases initiated in Argentina to address the human rights crimes of the Franco regime.

The Lecture, which is organised by the Lancaster University’s Law School and Dynamics of Memory Research Group, is the second of a series of “Sugarman Seminars” honouring Prof. David Sugarman, Lancaster University’s law professor and a leading authority on the Pinochet Case.

Everyone is welcome.  Further details from Prof. Mercedes Camino: m.camino@lancaster.ac.uk. You can find out about this and many other Lancaster University Law Department events at:
http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/faculty/event/current/dept/12//

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