After nearly 40 years of exile in a London suburb, Leopoldo García is the first Chilean torture survivor to win a landmark court case. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has just ruled that Chile should find those responsible for his abuse and award him compensation. This is his story of abuse, struggle and survival. Garcia exiled in 1975 has won court-ordered compensation from the state over the torture he suffered under Gen. Pinochet. The Court of Human Rights ruling in the case of Leopoldo Garcia Lucero, 80, marks the first decision on a living survivor of Pinochet’s human rights abuses, the BBC notes. Some 200,000 Chileans fled the Pinochet-led country; the case could influence similar decisions in the future. Garcia was detained for a year and a half starting in 1973, just days after Pinochet’s coup. He believes he was arrested for his ties to President Salvador Allende; there was no formal accusation, he says. Now living in the UK, he suffers from disability following spinal damage from the torture. For Leopoldo García, who is now 80-years-old, it’s impossible to forget, even for a single day, the torture he suffered under the Pinochet regime 40 years ago. Every time he looks at the mirror he can see the marks and scars. “I lost my teeth, the scar in my face is the result of a hit with a butt of a machine gun, my arm is broken and my spine still damaged … It’s a disaster. Even now I live with what happened to me at that time … and I will die with it,” he explains. The ruling has him “not happy, but satisfied,” he tells the BBC, “because it will now mean there’s been a precedent for the whole world, so something like this will never happen again.” Chile’s own investigation into Garcia’s case has been delayed for 16 years, according to the court; the country must finish it and pay moral damages to Garcia, the court ruled.
The lawyers at REDRESS argued that neither Leopoldo nor his family have had access to justice or adequate reparation. They called for Chile to remove all obstacles that prevent Leopoldo and others to access justice, such as the Amnesty Law. He also argued the pension he receives as a politically exonerated person be readjusted to take into account the higher cost of living in London, and for the restitution of the savings he had back in Chile.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has now ruled that Chile must finalize as urgently as possible the investigation regarding the abuse suffered by Leopoldo and bring those responsible to justice. The Court has also said Leopoldo should receive compensation.
“This is a positive ruling. The Chilean state must now ensure that Mr Garcia is able to see those who tortured him face the courts,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
This is the first time that the Inter-American Human Rights system rules on the case of an individual tortured under the Pinochet regime. For Leopoldo it’s clear that Chile must take responsibility for what happened 40 years ago and the consequences exile had for him and his family.
“I am very grateful to the English for hosting me. I will die here, but it’s Chile that has to assume its responsibility. I’m not from here. I’m from Chile,” Leopoldo insists.
“This is a positive ruling. The Chilean state must now ensure that Mr Garcia is able to see those who tortured him face the courts.”