Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 August 2009
In December 2006, as the news filtered out about General Augusto Pinochet's death at the age of ninety-one in Chile, both his supporters and detractors took to the streets. Despite granting himself an amnesty when he stepped down from power, Pinochet spent the final years of his life under criminal investigation and indictment for massive human rights violations and corruption. His detractors lamented that he had gone to his grave without standing trial; his supporters cheered, “No le condenaron” – “They never got him.” Pinochet's case, like the others in this book, raises questions about the relationships between justice and power, justice and popular demands for accountability, and justice and societal change. Motivated by changes in international and domestic political willingness for holding former heads of state or government accountable, national judges increasingly have overturned amnesties and other legal impediments to prosecuting leaders for crimes committed on their watch.
The existing transitional justice literature that analyzes trials of those responsible for serious human rights or humanitarian law violations shows that trials have the potential for a strong positive impact on the rule of law in situations when a country is transitioning from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one, or from conflict to peace.