In August, the Chilean Supreme Court stripped Gen. Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for the kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of people during his 17-year rule. Though Pinochet, citing ill health, had evaded extradition from London to Spain earlier this year, his initial arrest and the subsequent movement to bring him to justice has sparked similar efforts against former dictators around the globe.
In neighboring Brazil, a congressional commission has petitioned to indict former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who is living in exile in Brasilia. The Argentine Supreme Court has opened the way to prosecute members of the junta who orchestrated that country's "dirty war." Nobel Peace Prize laureate and indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchu Tum filed suit last spring with the High Court of Spain, accusing eight Guatemalan high officials of genocide, torture, and state terrorism. According to Chile's recently elected Socialist President Ricardo Lagos, these actions show that "globalization has now expanded from economic affairs to the institutions of politics and justice."
However, few of these leaders will likely face anything other than symbolic punishmentmany are now elderly and claim to be in failing health. In Indonesia, a court ruled this fall that former dictator Suharto was too ill to stand trial on corruption charges. But for the victims of these regimes and their families, these trials may bring both a formal recognition of the crimes committed against them and new information about the fates of loved ones. The Pinochet investigation has so far uncovered 26 bodies of the disappeared, which have since been given proper burials.
Human rights activists have noted that all of the above-mentioned leaders had at least one thing in common: Each was officially supported by the United States while in power.