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(Australian News Network) 
Judgment day for tyrants

THE ruling against Augusto Pinochet will have an immediate and widespread
influence on international law, marking a watershed in attempts to bring to
justice those accused of human rights violations. 

>From now on, there will be no hiding place for dictators: any leader with
blood on his hands will think twice before travelling to Britain and much of
western Europe. 

Those accused of the worst crimes ? Haile Mengistu Mariam of Ethiopia or Idi
Amin of Uganda ? generally stay hidden in exile. But yesterday's ruling
could open the way to extradition requests for other prominent visitors to

They include former presidents F. W. De Klerk and P. W. Botha of South
Africa, former military rulers in Latin America and most deposed African
leaders, including such figures as Valentine Strasser, the former military
ruler of Sierra Leone, who became a student at Warwick University. Haiti's
Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc), who is ensconced on the French Riviera,
should also be watching his back. 

Human rights lobbyists were jubilant yesterday in forecasting a galvanising
of the political will to prosecute torturers and those responsible for human
rights violations. "It will open a floodgate of similar cases," said Paolo
Wrobel, of Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs. 

Amnesty International declared: "It is a ground-breaking acknowledgment of
the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity and of
the international obligation to co-operate in the investigation and trial of
those accused of such crimes." 

The London-based organisation said the ruling, made two weeks before the
50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reaffirmed
the international community's commitment to the fulfilment of basic human
rights for all. The ruling also is likely to accelerate moves towards
establishing a permanent International Criminal Court. At first glance it
would seem to weaken the case for such a tribunal, as it gives individual
States the right to override national sovereignty in dealing with crimes
against humanity. But Amnesty and other human rights activists said the
Lords ruling was partly a result of the greater world concern arising from
the war crimes tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. 

Once the court was established, cases would be referred there rather than
being taken on by individual nations, they said. 

Britain will come under strong attack from Chile and other countries that
fear intrusion of outside legislations into their internal affairs. China
will see the ruling with particular worry, fearing it could give dissidents
in exile a powerful lever to attack those who oppressed them. Burma and many
other regimes in Asia also will see the ruling as a dangerous threat to
authoritarian governments. 

The Lords ruling now effectively abolishes the barrier of national
sovereignty as a protection for torturers and dictators. But this could lead
to considerable argument over the definition of rights, the degree to which
one country can judge another's political and legal systems, and the
mechanism for redress. 

Some Chileans have warned Margaret Thatcher could be arrested if she visited
a Latin American country, to face extradition to Argentina on charges over
the sinking of the battleship Belgrano during the Falklands conflict.