The importance of legal redress

Fiona Mckay’s Statement to a Press Conference following the UK House of Lords Ruling on Pinochet 24th March 1999:

When people think of legal redress they too often think only of monetary compensation. But that is not what redress is primarily about. Survivors of human rights violations, such as the Chilean victims of crimes against humanity, want – and have a right to – truth and justice. Ensuring redress is not only important for the sake of healing individual victims. Truth and justice are also crucial for healing and reconciliation of societies, especially after a conflict that has ripped a country apart.

Empowerment is an important component of this strong link between accountability and redress. It is significant not only that the judicial authorities began investigations of Senator Pinochet in Spain, France, Switzerland and Belgium, but also that it was the survivors – mainly relatives of the disappeared and murdered – who initiated these legal proceedings and are continuing to play a full role as parties as the cases continue.

Victims face sometimes insuperable obstacles in seeking redress. Because of a legal technicality, Senator Pinochet can only be prosecuted for acts committed after 1988. But this does not alter the fact that an important principle has been affirmed for victims: that despite the very real practical difficulties in obtaining redress, former heads of state responsible for crimes against humanity are not above the law. The decision of the House of Lords today therefore resonates not only for the victims of Pinochet’s Chile, but for all victims of crimes against humanity and other violations of human rights around the world.