The Hidden Histories of the Pinochet Case (1998-2000) – LECTURE

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Date / time: 6 February, 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

IALS Council Chamber, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

The Hidden Histories of the Pinochet Case (1998-2000) - LECTURE


Autumn 2023 marked the 25th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in London, and the subsequent decisions of Britain’s top court denying Pinochet’s claim as a former head of state to immunity. It was the first time that a former head of state had, while travelling abroad, been arrested on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, and where that former leader’s claims to immunity were rejected by a domestic court. Hugely controversial, Pinochet’s arrest and the ‘Pinochet precedent’ changed the meaning of international justice, giving a massive fillip to human-rights movements, galvanising victims and their loved ones, activists and lawyers.

This lecture brings into the open the hidden histories of the Pinochet case. It reveals what went on behind the scenes, in law and in politics. Drawing on a unique set of 250 interviews with victims, NGO’s, activists, judges, lawyers, politicians, government officials and journalists during or shortly after the case, and exhaustive archival research, it casts new light on:

  • Pinochet’s arrest.
  • The mobilisation of a human rights coalition determined to indict Pinochet.
  • The turbulent legal proceedings in London, including the decision to rehear the case as Lord Hoffmann lacked the appearance of judicial independence.
  • The vital roles played by victims, their representatives, the superjuez, lawyers, journalists and media outlets (notably, El País) in sustaining the case against Pinochet versus the powerful forces seeking to resist it.
  • Pinochet’s release on health grounds.

Under huge pressure many people produced high quality work, but there were structural and personal shortcomings. The lecture lays bare the collaborations that arose, and the professional and personal fissures that ensued.

The struggle to bring Pinochet to justice in London and Madrid was a remarkable endeavour. It has special saliency in an era when autocracy, impunity and denialism of human rights crimes are on the rise, and the notion of international justice is being challenged.

The lecture is situated at the intersection of law, politics, activism, the humanities and the social sciences. It will appeal to the IALS community and beyond.

Speaker: David Sugarman is Professor of Law Emeritus at the Law School of Lancaster University; Senior Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London; Senior Associate, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford. He has authored, co-authored and edited 24 books and special issues of journals, and has published over 100 articles and book chapters. He has written widely on the Pinochet case including in the Modern Law Review, Journal of Law and Society, Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, Amicus Curiae, The Guardian, The Times, The Santiago Times, Open Democracy and El Mostrador. He has contributed to TV and radio on the subject, and has delivered keynote lectures on the case in Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA.

Chair: Professor Carl Stychin, IALS Director.

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