Progress in 2021: ‘Don Leopoldo’ and the Struggle for Pinochet-Era Justice
This article is part of a series of ‘In Focus’ pieces looking at some of our key achievements over the past year.
In it, REDRESS Head of Communications Eva Sanchis looks back at our work with the late Leopoldo García Lucero, a survivor of torture under General Pinochet’s reign in Chile who later achieved a landmark ruling upholding the right of torture survivors in exile to justice and reparation.
By Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications
REDRESS is greatly saddened by the recent death of our client Leopoldo García Lucero, who died on 18 August 2021 in London, after a long illness.
‘Don Leopoldo’, as he was also known, achieved a landmark ruling in 2013 upholding the right of torture survivors in exile to justice and reparation, paving the way for similar litigation by other torture survivors.
A political supporter of President Salvador Allende, Don Leopoldo received refugee status in the UK in the 1970s after surviving torture under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile. As a result of the torture, he lost most of his teeth, his arm was broken in several places, his face was disfigured, and his spine was severely damaged. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was declared permanently disabled.
After Don Leopoldo, his wife and their three young daughters settled permanently in London, his wife María Elena supported the family, having lost all of their possessions during the coup. Despite the adversities he faced, he never lost his remarkable generosity and sense of humour.
REDRESS worked closely with Don Leopoldo, throughout his fight for justice, litigating a case on his behalf before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Americas’ highest human rights court. His case was finally decided on 28 August 2013. It was the first time the Inter-American Court had decided the case of a living survivor of torture under Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Chile was ordered to pay Leopoldo £20,000 for the lack of justice in his case, and ordered to complete a criminal investigation into his torture. The Court also urged Chile to provide adequate funding to cover the costs of Leopoldo’s medical treatment.
Don Leopoldo would often say that what he found most satisfying about the ruling is that “it sets a precedent for the whole world so that it doesn’t happen again.” On 7 March 2014, he received a formal apology and the compensation from the Chilean government at its embassy in London.
“We will remember “Don Leopoldo” for his determination not only to hold the perpetrators of his torture to account, but also to prevent others from enduring the same kind of ill-treatment that he did, and we will be honoured to continue to press for the full accountability which his memory deserves.”
Unfortunately, eight years later Chile has failed to bring the perpetrators of Don Leopoldo’s torture to justice, so earlier this year, REDRESS made a further submission to the Inter-American Court. Among the issues we raised is the Chilean government’s failure to engage with the US in facilitating the extradition of one of the perpetrators of the torture from the US to Chile.
Don Leopoldo is survived by his wife, their three daughters and four grandchildren, to whom REDRESS extends our heartfelt sympathy. We will remember Don Leopoldo for his determination not only to hold the perpetrators of his torture to account, but also to prevent others from enduring the same kind of ill-treatment that he did, and we will be honoured to continue to press for the full accountability which his memory deserves.