Pinochet’s arrest

On October 16, 1998, the house arrest of General Augusto Pinochet, at the request of Judge Baltasar Garzón, which relied on the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, marked a milestone in the treatment of criminal perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The case against the Chilean dictator accused of human rights violations in Chile – charges included 94 allegations of torture of Spanish citizens, the murder in 1975 of the Spanish diplomat Carmelo Soria and conspiracy to commit torture – lasted 16 months, until the House of Lords ruled that Pinochet was not entitled to immunity and could be tried.

Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, praised the decision of the House, stating that it was clear that torture is an international crime subject to universal jurisdiction. Amnesty International and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture called for the extradition of the General to Spain. For its part, Chile withdrew its ambassador in Madrid for a time to protest the actions of Spain.

The house arrest of Pinochet in London, where he had gone for medical treatment, lasted 503 days. His defence argued his failing health, and after medical tests, British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decided that he should not be extradited to Spain. Despite protests from organizations defending human rights, in March 200 Pinochet was able to return to Chile.

The image of a helpless old man in a wheel chair leaving British territory contrasted with his upright figure after landing at the airport in Santiago, Chile on March 3, 2000.

Pinochet finally died on December 10, 2006 without being convicted of any crime, even though more than 300 criminal charges were brought against him in Chile.


Garzón investigated criminal acts – genocide, crimes against humanity and terrorism during the military dictatorship in Chile (1973-1988) – with Spanish victims. The principle of Universal Criminal Justice was applied. On October 16 he ordered the arrest of the former head of state, with the British authorities granting it the same day, for the purpose of extradition. Although political decision by the former president was returned to Chile where he continued to be tried, the extradition was favourably resolved by Judge Ronald Bartlle for Spain.

Similarly he addressed investigations into money laundering and concealment of assets against Augusto Pinochet and others, related to funds found in the Ribb U.S. bank, obtaining substantial compensation for victims.