The disappearance of four French citizens in the 1970s under Chile’s military regime is at the heart of a trial that gets under way Wednesday in Paris. Families of the victims say the case could offer them the justice they have so far been denied.
The families of four Frenchmen who disappeared in Chile in the 1970s hope that a criminal trial just underway in Paris will finally provide them with justice.
On Wednesday, a Paris court will start proceedings against 14 Chilean men accused of participating in the kidnapping and torture of Etienne Pesle, Jean-Yves Claudet, Alfonso Chanfreau and Georges Klein during the rule of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet.
“We’ve been waiting all our lives for justice,” said Natalia Chanfreu, daughter of one of the deceased victims who flew to Paris for the trial. “We hope these crimes will be recognized by the international community and the criminals will be recognized as such. Even if it’s far from Chile.”
Natalia’s father Alfonso, a member of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), was
arrested by Chile’s secret police at his home on July 30, 1974. She and her mother were forced into exile in France while Alfonso was tortured for weeks before his life was erased by the military regime.
The victims’ families, as well as three human rights organizations that are also plaintiffs in the case, say they want broad legal recognition of the atrocities committed in the wake of Chile’s 1973 military coup.
The 14 accused, some of whom are serving short prison sentences in Chile and Argentina and some of whom are living freely in Chile, will not be present at the trial and have declined legal representation for the proceedings.
A 'continuous' crime
The court case, scheduled to end December 17, is the climax of a laborious pre-trial investigation spanning 12 years, and was made possible by two unique features of the French legal system. The country’s criminal code can be applied to foreigners guilty of crimes committed against French citizens outside its borders. In addition, French judges have accepted that the forced disappearances constitute a “continuous crime” against the four victims and have cancelled the statute of limitations that would have exempted the accused from trial.
Even if guilty verdicts come through in Paris, the accused are unlikely to see the inside of a jail cell. However, the families of the disappeared Frenchmen know that guilty verdicts could translate into jail time if any of the men travel outside Chile.
The four disappeared Frenchmen are among more than 3,197 people that have been officially recognized as murdered or disappeared during the Chilean dictatorship.
“This is not just about our families,” said Jacqueline Claudet, the sister of one of the victims. “I am thinking about people who live in Chile and in Latin American who will never know even the small amount of justice we are feeling.”
Main photo courtesy Centre d'Accueil de la Presse Etrangère (CAPE) in Paris.
Human rights organisations and groups representing the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship called a rally in Paris Wednesday. It was to mark the beginning of a trial in the French capital of 14 men accused of kidnapping and torture under the regime. (Photo: J. Bamat)
A banner calling for "JUSTICE TRUTH" decorates the renowned Saint Michel fountain. A blanket of snow covered Paris on Wednesday, adding a somber tone to the event. (Photo: J. Bamat)
The 14 accused (poster in background) are suspected of involvement in the disappearance of four French citizens between 1973 and 1975. None of the 14 defendants will be present at the trial. (Photo: J. Bamat)
Dario Molina Cook holds up a poster of the four "disappeared": Georges Klein, Etienne Pesle, Jean-Yves Claudet and Alfonso Chanfreau. Families of the victims say the case may finally result in justice being done. (Photo: J. Bamat)
"This is a way to recognise the fight against the impunity that exists in Chile." Ulises Urriola, who moved from Chile to France a year ago. (Photo: J. Bamat)
"The rest of the world has already recognized the atrocities of the dictatorship. The best result of this trial would be real repercussions in Chile." Marcos Barrientos and Alba Hernot. (Photo: J. Bamat)
"In solidarity with the families of the victims." Lis Bouzid Vega, member of the pro-Mapuche Indian group 'Land and Life for Arauco'. (Photo: J. Bamat)
Patricio, a former political prisoner, spent 40 days inside the Estadio Nacional, the stadium in the Chilean capital Santiago which served as a prison and torture camp after the 1973 military coup. Patricio was exiled to France in March 1974. (Photo: J. Bamat)
Edicto Grey and Angelica Villalon, former political prisoners exiled to France in 1976. "For us this is a historic moment. What we were unable to do in Chile, we have accomplished in France." (Photo: J. Bamat)
Patricia Zuñiga holds an effigy of Georges Klein, one of the "disappeared" victims in the trial. Zuñiga was imprisoned, then exiled to France on September 11, 1975. She was eight months pregnant. Her partner, Rene Molina Magallanes, disappeared in Chile. (Photo: J. Bama
An estimated 11,000 Chileans were forced into exile or sought asylum in France after Augusto Pinochet seized power. Two official reports in Chile have recognised 3,197 victims of murder and disappearance during the dictatorship. (Photo: J. Bamat)
Date created : 2010-12-07