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Justice & The Generals
El Salvador
Around the World
About the Film
U.S Law - The Debate
Introduction Background The People The Debate Your View
What's Your View?
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The Debate Question
Henry Kissinger
Photo of Henry Kissinger
Kenneth Roth
Photo of Kenneth Roth

In October 1998, acting on an extradition request from a Spanish judge, British authorities arrested Augusto Pinochet, former president of Chile. The British held Pinochet for 16 months before releasing him on the grounds of his ailing health; though Britain ultimately did not extradite him to Spain, the ruling Labour party expressed its willingness to do so.

Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, was disturbed by this development. In "The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction," an essay for the July-August 2001 issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS magazine, he argued that the Pinochet case set a dangerous precedent. The courts of one nation, he asserted, should not have the legal authority to impose their laws on others, especially since they might be motivated by politics. He also emphasized that, with rare exceptions, individual countries know best how to come to terms with prior political violence, rhetorically asking, "Should any outside group dissatisfied with the reconciliation procedures of, say, South Africa be free to challenge them in their own national courts or those of third countries?"

The British government's decision to detain (and then release) Augusto Pinochet pleased (and then disappointed) many people besides the Spanish judge who requested Pinochet's extradition. Human-rights advocates have, for many years, been at the forefront of the movement to try certain crimes outside the nations in which they were committed.

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote a response to Kissinger, "The Case for Universal Jurisdiction," in the September-October 2001 issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS. Challenging Kissinger's contention that national courts should not impose their laws upon other countries, Roth mentioned that the U.S. had implemented "universal jurisdiction" in trying Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, without Panama's consent. Moreover, Roth argued, individual nations, following systematic bloodshed, may require external influences to generate the reconciliation process: "Only after 16 months of detention in the United Kingdom diminished [Pinochet's] power was Chilean democracy able to begin prosecution. Such imposed impunity is far more common than democratically chosen impunity."