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The arrest of Pinochet in London on the warrant issued by Spanish justice Baltasar Garzón in 1998 was one of the earliest applications of universal jurisdiction, and one of the happiest days of my life.
Universal jurisdiction has met with resistance and obstructions since then. To protect this important legal recourse to prosecute crimes against humanity, a small group workshop is being held next week at Florida State University jointly organized by the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, The International Bar Association and The Charles Horman Truth Project. Discussion of strategies for strengthening the international practice of universal jurisdiction are on the agenda.
Universal jurisdiction allows states or international organizations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused human rights abuser regardless of where the alleged crime was committed, and regardless of the accused's nationality, country of residence, or any other relation with the prosecuting entity. Dictator Pinochet was too powerful to bring to trial in Chile while he ruled with a brutal hand. When he traveled to England he was vulnerable to a Spanish arrest warrant because of universal jurisdiction. When the UK honored the warrant and arrested Pinochet in his hospital bed, it was the beginning of an 18 month legal process which kept him away from Chile and his military power. Pinochet’s indictment provided the first deep breath outside of repression that Chileans inside and outside of their country could take.
The workshop’s three public discussion sessions on Tuesday will be webcast and will be available for live viewing at http://learningforlife.capd.fsu.edu/universalJurisdiction/.