British court hears appeal on Pinochet extradition
International law should supersede English law, judges told
LONDON (CNN) -- Lawyers pushing for the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet told a British appeals panel Thursday that international laws proscribing crimes against humanity should supercede an English law protecting heads of state from prosecution.
A five-judge panel, selected from among the House of Lords, heard a second day of arguments Thursday in an appeal of an October 28 decision by a lower court that quashed an extradition request for Pinochet from a Spanish magistrate. A decision isn't expected until at least next week.
The former Chilean leader, arrested last month in London after undergoing spinal surgery, has been released from detention but was ordered to remain in Britain until the case is decided.
In an unusual move, the panel of "law lords," which serves as the highest court for England and Wales, agreed to let a human rights lawyer argue for Pinochet's extradition Thursday.
Ian Brownlie represents Amnesty International as well as Sheila Cassidy, a British doctor allegedly tortured in Chile during Pinochet's rule, and two sisters of William Beausire, a Briton who vanished in Chile in 1975.
"English public policy is clearly against recognizing immunity for ... the torturous causing of deaths," Brownlie said. He called the Spanish extradition warrant "a hopeful opening in the wall of impunity" surrounding the 82-year-old Pinochet.
Normally, only lawyers from the two opposing sides are allowed to argue a case before the House of Lords. But the judges allowed Brownlie to intervene after lawyers representing the Spanish government and British prosecutors had finished their arguments.
On Monday, Pinochet's lawyers will begin arguing their case.
Lawyers pushing the case for Pinochet's extradition argued that the crimes of which Pinochet is accused -- genocide, torture and terrorism -- were well established as international crimes prior to his assumption of power in a 1973 military coup.
They also argued that because Britain is a signatory to international conventions, those international laws should take precedence over England's 1978 State Immunity Act, which the lower court said protected Pinochet from extradition for his actions as a head of state.
The lawyers also argued that some of the crimes for which Pinochet is being sought in Spain took place before he declared himself head of state and before changes in the Chilean constitution designated him as the country's official ruler.
Pinochet's Spanish accusers charge that as leader of the Chilean armed forces and head of the government from 1973 to 1990, he gave orders to eliminate, torture and kidnap thousands of political opponents, including a number of Spaniards.
In the wake of his arrest in London, other legal moves have been made against Pinochet by alleged victims of his rule in France, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Lawyers for three French citizens who disappeared in Chile during the Pinochet years have sent a letter to French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou, asking that the government push for Pinochet's arrest in the event that he is freed in England and stops in any other countries on his way back to Chile.
In Germany, four more complaints were filed against Pinochet on Thursday, in an attempt to pressure Germany to demand his extradition. There are now seven complaints in German courts, representing a total of nine people.
Eight of the nine were Chilean citizens at the time they allegedly became victims of human rights abuses by the Pinochet junta. All have since gained German citizenship. The ninth person was a German citizen living in Chile during the Pinochet years.
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