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    November 19, 2014

    The event was a legal milestone that sent a chilling message to human rights violators the world over.

    Eight years after being ousted from power, in October 1998, Augusto Pinochet, the ailing Chilean former leader and one of the world’s most notorious dictators, decided to travel to Europe to receive medical treatment.

    But as he arrived in London, members of the Chilean diaspora – many of them survivors of torture during Pinochet’s brutal regime – saw a golden opportunity for the former dictator to be investigated, after Chile had systematically refused to do so.

    Armed with the International Convention against Torture – a ground-breaking treaty under which governments had agreed that those suspected of committing or ordering torture could be tried by state parties all around the world – lawyers began a fierce battle.

    Never before had the Convention been successfully used to prosecute a former head of state suspected of having ordered or committed torture, and the results were astonishing.

    September 11, 2013
    March in Santiago, Chile, 30 August 2009, for the International Day of the Disappeared.

    By Kathy Price

    Kathy Price leads AI Canada’s campaigning on human rights issues in Latin America.

    It has come to be known as “the other 9-11” – an infamy that changed the face not only of Chile but of Canada too.

    September 11 marks 40 years since a bloody military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile overthrew the democratically-elected socialist government of President Salvador Allende. The US-backed coup installed a brutal military dictatorship, unleashing years of vicious repression against anyone suspected of supporting Allende. Thousands were tortured, disappeared or murdered. The persecution, in turn, forced thousands of refugees to seek a safe haven in Canada, enriching the fabric of countless communities.

    I was a communications student at McGill University at the time and a new member of the university’s Amnesty International group. My introduction to the terror that was transforming Chile’s democracy came via an encounter I have never forgotten. As part of a university video project, I interviewed a newcomer to Montreal; Bernabe Videla Torres, a refugee from Chile.

    August 14, 2013

    Roger Plant joined Amnesty International in 1972 to cover the organization’s work on Latin America. A few months after Pinochet took power by force, he went to Chile to document the arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances. The result was a groundbreaking report that helped shine a light on the reality of life in the Latin-American country.

    As a young researcher, Roger Plant had only been working for Amnesty International for less than a year when Augusto Pinochet launched his coupe d’état in 1973. With his feet barely under the desk it was a baptism of fire - a seminal moment that would eventually define his career.

    “The day of the coup I was in London. I was at home when I was called and we rushed into immediate action. I remember very quickly contacting the various Chilean friends and contacts trying to get a picture together of what was happening,” he explained.

    A few months later, he was sat on a plane at London’s Heathrow airport bound for Santiago de Chile via New York. Following a phone conversation with Amnesty International’s General Secretary, the late Martin Ennals, he was still unsure if he would be allowed into the country.