Tuesday, 10 June 2008

How far is too far?

The BBC is running an article about the continued prosecution of suspected human rights abusers in Chile, pointing out that some people think that bygones should be bygones and minor military figures should not be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Pinochest dictatorship.
They accuse the judiciary and the centre-left government of conducting a witch-hunt of the armed forces, in a vindictive bid to put everyone associated with the Pinochet regime behind bars.
A witch-hunt? Vindictive? That's a bit rich, surely, when you consider the persecution levelled at the left during the military regime and the limited and rather feeble legal responses since redemocratization.
When, if ever, does one draw a line under the horrors of history in the interests of reconciliation?
Well, this is the big question of course. But it's my belief that you can't achieve true reconciliation without first acknowledging the extent of the events, the memory of which you are supposed to become reconciled to. (Or, in the words of Eelco Runia, by asking, "who are we that this could have happened?"). While steps have been taken in this direction, there are still sectors of society in Chile that do not accept that crimes were committed during the dictatorship.
...these days, for the most part, the only men left alive to try are the "youngsters", Pinochet's foot soldiers who were on the bottom rung of the military ladder at the time of the coup.

Some say it is unfair that they should bear the brunt of the investigations.
I suspect there is an element of unfairness here. Still, it is "unfair" that political progress was so slow and legal proceedings so protracted that Pinochet died without being committed of a crime. It is "unfair" that young men and women of the left were tortured and killed by a murderous regime and that their families do not even have the cold comfort of seeing the perpetrators jailed. Just because there were people out there who committed greater crimes, does not mean that somewhat lesser crimes should go unpunished.

The military figures interviewed in the article are now attempting to portray themselves as the victims, driven into the underground and even to suicide by the vicious, vengeful behaviour of crazed human rights activists. I'm not surprised that they see themselves in this way - after all, they desire gratitude for "saving" Chile from socialism - but I do not see that the rest of us need to buy into it. It's quite sick to hear the language of human rights coming from the mouths of perpetrators who are still trying to get out of facing their pasts. Even the language of the BBC article seems to support this, choosing a violent metaphor for its headline, 'Pinochet's foot soldier's in firing line'. Actually, there will be no one facing a firing squad in this round of prosecutions, jail will be the maximum punishment, and given many of those accused's advanced ages, I'd be surprised to see many very lengthy jail sentences handed down in the near future. This is very far from a witch-hunt.

No comments: