The Chilean Supreme Court issued a request on January 15 that the Australian government extradite a former agent of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s notorious secret police back to Chile to face charges of kidnapping and forced disappearances.
The move comes after the revelation made public last September by SBS journalist Florencia Melgar that former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) agent Adriana Rivas had been in Australia since 2010, despite bail conditions imposed following Rivas’s 2006 arrest prohibiting her from leaving Chile.
Melgar told Green Left Weekly that if Rivas was to be extradited it would set an important precedent for others facing prosecution for human rights violations committed in their home country.
Rivas was arrested in 2006 for her alleged involvement in the 1976 kidnapping and forced disappearance of Victor Diaz Lopez, a trade union leader and high-ranking member of the Chilean Communist Party.
At the time, Rivas was working at DINA, which was set up just two months after a violent coup overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende and put Pinochet in power.
Specifically, Rivas served with DINA’s Lautaro Brigade, which was entrusted with the mission of wiping out the Chilean Communist Party.
Melgar said: “Rivas's case is paradigmatic because, for the first time ever, we are dealing with a request from Chile to Australia to extradite someone due to human rights violations. I would even go as far as to say this is the first time any South American country has issued such a request.
“It is now up to the Australian government to decide what happens next.
“I believe that, objectively, and regardless of whether you are in favour or against the request to extradite Rivas, if this was to occur, it would set a precedent for other migrants that are currently being prosecuted in their home country.”
It is still unclear how a person facing charges for human rights abuses carried out in the service of a brutal dictatorship and prohibited from leaving Chile could get into Australia.
Tony Abbott's government must demonstrate that Australia is not a safe haven for those responsible for state terrorism in Chile or anywhere.
A first step in this direction would be to send Rivas back to face trial in Chile so the thousands who lost loved ones under the Pinochet dictatorship, many of whom were forced to flee for their lives to Australia, can receive some justice.