by Rhodri C. Williams
Earlier this Fall, I had the pleasure of being invited to lecture at the Essex Transitional Justice Network’s 2013 summer school, which focused on land issues in transitional settings. I also stayed on for a seminar on land and traditions that got me back together with some familiar leading lights on HLP questions and acquainted me with a number of others. The EJTN has been doing some very interesting work at the frontiers of the transitional justice discourse, including research on economic and social rights approaches to TJ, rehabilitation as a form of reparation and, most recently, a book on corporate accountability in transitional settings.
As a human rights practitioner frequently (and rightly) accused of being a frustrated academic, the seminar was a good reminder of how many other people believe that the strain of trying to keep a foot in both camps is more than compensated for by the synergies that can result. One of the more impressive examples I encountered during my stay in Colchester was the work of ETJN Director Clara Sandoval, who is also not only a Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex Law School, but also a frequent practitioner. Recently, as a consultant for Redress, she helped to bring the case of Leopoldo Garcia Lucero v. Chile before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Garcia Lucero case involves the claim of an 80 year old torture survivor who was held for a year and a half in Chilean prison camps before being expelled in 1975. Since then, Mr. Garcia Lucero has struggled to make a new life in London, one among some 200,000 Chileans forced out by the Pinochet regime. Physically disfigured and permanently disabled, he sought an “effective remedy and full and adequate reparation for what happened to him” before the Inter-American Court.
In the decades since Mr. Garcia Lucero was victimized, the Chilean experience of transitional justice has come to be seen as a model in many respects. However, as Clara Sandoval noted in a BBC interview, efforts to provide reparations to victims of the Pinochet regime have been accompanied by relatively few convictions of perpetrators and largely excluded exiled victims, exacerbating their vulnerability. Meanwhile, with the recent commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet coup, painful new revelations such as the failure of the Chilean courts to protect ordinary citizens continue to emerge.
Observers such as Oscar Guardiola-Rivera have noted the extent to which the lessons of the Chilean transition remain politically contested, both domestically and abroad. For instance, in a recent Stratfor column, Robert Kaplan portrays a “morally vexing” Pinochet whose economic policies “prepared his country well for eventual democracy” but who is “also rightly the object of intense hatred among liberals and humanitarians the world over for perpetrating years of systematic torture against tens of thousands of victims.”
Guardiola-Rivera counters with a bracing critique of Pinochet’s economic stewardship, beginning with the inequality consciously perpetuated by Pinochet’s hysterically conservative followers and the current, drastic results of earlier failures to invest in social welfare measures. He also notes the extent to which satisfaction with Chile’s economic model was broadcast by international corporate interests that stood to benefit the most from privatization and wide open markets. However, it is impossible to deny the continued potency of the ‘Pinochet model’ in a post 9-11 world in which democracy has become a force to be reckoned with, but one still heavily susceptible to co-optation:
Chile’s supposedly miraculous economic model and its “protected democracy” – the name given by Pinochet’s advisers to the political model incarnated in the 1980 constitution, a precursor of the current model of democracy plus draconian limits to civil liberties that have emerged in the UK and the US after 9/11 – is still in force pace some minor amendments … That model, admired by Thatcherites and Reaganites the world over, was recently suggested to the Egyptian military by the Wall Street Journal. (NB: read it here)
With all this as background, Mr. Garcia Lucero won his case three days ago, in a decision in which the Court ordered Chile to conclude a criminal investigation of the underlying abuses, as well as to pay £20,000 in compensation for the delay in investigating his case and his exclusion from domestic reparations programs – and further costs for medical and psychological treatment in the UK. As such, the compensation awarded appears to be significantly lower than the £110,000 sought in moral damages alone by Garcia Lucero. But the precedent effect may be tremendous.
This begins with Chile. Nervous officials in Santiago are no doubt busy working out mathematical variations on £20,000 times 200,000 exiles and will be well-advised to engage in a pro-active and consultative approach to avoiding a deluge of litigation. However, there may also be implications for other Cold-War era atrocities now arising before the Court, such as a recent challenge to the Guatemalan judiciary’s schizophrenic approach to former dictator José Rios Montt’s culpability for genocide against indigenous Guatemalans.
It will also be interesting to see what, if any significance the renewed attention to Cold War-era repression may have on calls for accountability from foreign governments and corporations. Will the British government – or the BBC – accept at least moral responsibility for having gone to bat for Pinochet in full knowledge of the unfolding atrocities following from his coup? Will the multinationals that benefitted from the coup in Chile – or that helped to fuel the genocidal conflict in Guatemala – conduct their own investigations and publish the results? Or will the corporate social responsibility movement look solely to the future?
With all this in mind, I am thrilled to be able to introduce a shortly forthcoming guest-posting on the Garcia Lucero decision by Clara Sandoval, one of the lawyers for the complainant. Ms. Sandoval will give her impression of the significance of the Inter-American Court’s decision, both for the plaintiff and his family and for the broader cause of justice for victims of authoritarianism in Latin America.
Update – please see Clara Sandoval’s guest posting here:
– Chile and the unfinished business of justice and reparation (11 December 2013)