Victims of Chilean dictatorship seek justice in France
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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.
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