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CARAVAN OF DEATH: JUDGES SENTENCE DRAWS CRITICISM

(May 18 2006) Judge Víctor Montiglio closed the case against six retired military member in the Caravan of Death case Wednesday deciding to apply Chile’s controversial 1978 Amnesty law instead of prosecuting. The ruling goes against the stated policy of the Chile’s Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court as well as the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war and is expected to be appealed.

In court papers filed in the case, Judge Montiglio absolved retired Generals Gabriel del Río and Sergio Arellano Stark as well as Brig. Carlos Romero Muñoz, Col. Mario Cazenave Pontanilla, Pvt. José Parada Muñoz, and Pvt. Julio Barros Espinace of the murders of Teófilo Arce, Leopoldo González, Segundo Sandoval and José Sepúlveda on Oct. 2, 1973.

The decision recognized the defendants’ guilt in the homicides but still granted all of the men amnesty because in the judge’s opinion, crimes committed during the dictatorship are not human rights crimes and therefore are not regulated by international treaties.

The investigation concluded that “during Gen. Arellano’s visit to the Linares Artillery School on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 1973, as a delegate of the President of the governing coalition and Commander in Chief of the Army, sentenced Teófilo Arce Tolosa, José Sepúlveda Baeza, Segundo Sandoval Gómez and Leopoldo González Norambuena…to execution for having been involved in an armed conflict with police forces in the city of San Javier on Sept. 11, 1973. The execution was meant to be an example to the people and, before leaving the city, [Gen. Stark] gave the order to (then) Col. Gabriel del Río who then transmitted the order to (then) Capt. Carlos Romero Muñoz, who carried it out.”

Gen. Arellano was in charge of the so called “Caravan of Death” that traveled through Chile by helicopter in the weeks after the 1973 military coup to “speed up war trials” of jailed supporters of deposed President Salvador Allende. The expedition led to the summary execution of more than 70 individuals.

Judge Montiglio’s decision rests on the legal definition of whether or not Chile was, at the time, engaged in internal warfare. While Montiglio does not think that Chile was in a state of internal war, the Criminal Chamber of Chile’s Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the opposite maintaining that Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war should be applied in cases such as this one. The Supreme Court’s decision is based on international definitions of internal war as well as the military junta’s 1973 decrees declaring a “state of internal war.”

SOURCE: LA NACIÓN

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