Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

No pardon for Augusto Pinochet henchmen

A police officer looks on as people hold portraits of dissidents killed by former General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (AP)

Chile's conservative president has rejected a proposal by the Roman Catholic Church for sweeping pardons of elderly and sick prisoners that would have freed military officers convicted of human rights abuses during the Pinochet dictatorship.

President Sebastian Pinera said he would only look at case-by-case pardons on humanitarian grounds and that serious offences related to crimes against humanity, terrorism or drug trafficking would not be considered.

Catholic Church leaders in Chile proposed pardoning prisoners who were sick, over 70 or had served half their sentence.

But relatives of victims who were killed or vanished during Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule said such a sweeping amnesty would be a setback for basic justice and fairness.

"I have come to the conclusion that it would be neither prudent nor wise, under current circumstances, to approve a new general pardon," Mr Pinera said in a televised message.

He said individual pardons would be closely studied, but "convicts will be excluded who have been sentenced for especially grave crimes, such as crimes against humanity, terrorism, drug trafficking, homicide, violent crime, rape and abuses against minors".

The president of the Chilean bishop's conference, Alejandro Goic, told state television that the president was open to the substance of the Church's proposals for improving the prison system. "The president has given very clear signals that they will about that," he said.

Mireya Garcia, vice president of the Group of Relatives of the Detainees and Disappeared, welcomed Mr Pinera's announcement but said concerns about individual pardons remained.

"We are worried that in the end, people who were sentenced under different categories - but who are human rights violators - could fall under some category that makes them eligible for pardon," she said.

According to official statistics, 3,065 opponents of Pinochet's right-wing regime were killed and 1,200 more disappeared. Some 600 military personnel have been accused of crimes against humanity but no more than 150 are serving prison sentences.

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