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Human Rights Quarterly 28.2 (2006) 528-542

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The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights, by Naomi Roht-Arriaza (University of Pennsylvania Press 2005), 280 pp.

It's an icon of the human rights community, on the all-time short-list of successful cutting edge human rights actions. The 1998 arrest in London of Augusto Pinochet, the former military dictator in Chile, and his subsequent legal battles to avoid extradition to Spain to stand trial for serious international crimes pursuant to the principle of universal jurisdiction was a stunningly successful collaboration of governmental and nongovernmental actors against impunity of the most gross magnitude. Despite the general's gleeful and defiant jig on the tarmac of the Santiago airport after his lawyers successfully negotiated his return to Chile based on ill-health, seen on televisions around the world, he did not beat the devil. His sixteen month saga through the British legal system, and his narrow escape from prison, were bellwethers of the end of his control over the military and its broad political power in Chile and the beginning of an ongoing legal process to hold him and his regime accountable for the atrocities of his presidency between 1973 and 1990, a process that continues today.1

More broadly, Pinochet's arrest and subsequent legal proceedings were a global drama that taught the world about the risks of repressive national leadership, the reach of global justice, and the insatiable thirst for truth and accountability of victims. His encounter with justice offered advocates and victims a new vision, a vision that took root in their hearts the world over and gave rise to the phenomenal ripple in national and international courts appropriately called the "Pinochet Effect."

The most impressive accomplishment of this accomplished work is the breadth and detail of Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza's examination of cases that came in the wake of the decisions by the British courts: well over a score of trials and appeals in the national courts of Spain, Chile, Argentina, Great Britain, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Uruguay, the United States, the Netherlands, Senegal, and Mexico, as well as related proceedings before the International Court of Justice and the Inter-American system for human rights protection, all arising from and related to the London events of 1998. This book provides the reader with both grand sweep and meticulous detail of those decisions as well as the stories and actors behind them.

Roht-Arriaza exhibits her deep understanding of the historical events of the Dirty Wars years and National Security Doctrine that dominated in the Southern Cone of South America during the period from the late 1960s through the late 1980s and transitions to more democratic regimes throughout the global South. Her book moves from the specific national cases to broader analytical frameworks with ease, providing us with critique [End Page 528] of a process that unfolded in seemingly chaotic fashion from the mid-1990s until 2003, the period of this study. For that alone, scholars owe the author a debt of gratitude.

Roht-Arriaza also has made a significant contribution to the already ample "post-Pinochet" literature2 with her broad-ranging, detailed and unique examination of the events leading up to the series of legal decisions in London, as well as the legal aftermath of the series of decisions by the House of Lords. The book may not be an easy read for non-lawyers simply because of the complex legal concepts at play in the interactions of domestic and international law. But, at the same time, her writing does not suffer from the dense and purely theoretical approach to universal jurisdiction that saturated law reviews in the year or so after the English decisions; the style attempts to be conversational and engaging, almost journalistic, and for the most part, it is. The tone and analysis of this work follows on, and builds from, her earlier work, Impunity in International Law and Practice, published in 1995. As a sequel to the previous study, this effort makes absolute...


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