The Law and Politics of the Pinochet Case

Posted: 3 Oct 2000

See all articles by Michael Byers

Michael Byers

University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Law


On a Friday evening in October 1998, General Augusto Pinochet, the eighty-two year old former general and dictator of Chile, was arrested in London by the Metropolitan Police at the request of a Spanish magistrate. Thus began a saga with profound implications for the substance, enforcement, and public perception of international law. The Pinochet case involved - and will have a significant impact upon - a number of legal areas, including international criminal law, human rights, state immunity, jurisdiction, extradition, and the relationship between international law and domestic legal systems.

The case cannot be fully understood solely from a legal perspective. A variety of non-legal factors shaped both the proceedings and the outcome: domestic politics; international diplomacy; the arms trade; the individual personalities, backgrounds, and self-perceived roles of judges and politicians; the activities of non-governmental organizations, transnational corporations, and the growth of transnational networks between judicial authorities from different countries; and the media and international public opinion. Given the array of legal issues and non-legal factors involved, the Pinochet case provides an excellent window into the complicated relationship between international law and politics. This Essay seeks to take advantage of this opportunity, explaining how the existence of legal rules and institutions shaped the options available to judges and politicians involved in this case, and ultimately constrained their behavior.

Suggested Citation

Byers, Michael, The Law and Politics of the Pinochet Case. Available at SSRN:

Michael Byers (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC), Faculty of Law ( email )

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