Australian justice gave the green light on Thursday to Chile’s request to extradite Adriana Rivas, who is required for the disappearance of seven people during the Augusto Pinochet regime in the 1970s, although this ruling can still be appealed by the defendant.
At the more than an hour’s hearing, Judge Philip Stewart of the State Court of New South Wales favored the 67-year-old Chilean’s “eligibility” to be extradited.
The defendant, who defends her innocence, appeared by video conference from the prison where she has been held since her arrest in February 2019.
In reviewing the parties’ arguments, the judge noted that the “crimes against humanity” attributed to Rivas “constitute offenses” susceptible to extradition and dismissed the defendant’s allegations, who claims that she will be tried in Chile for her “political views”.
Lautaro, the extermination brigade
Rivas, who worked as a nanny and cleaning houses for three decades in Sydney, is accused of participating in the Lautaro extermination brigade of the Directorate of National Intelligence (Pinochet’s secret police), where she became the secretary of Manuel Contreras, the top head of this unit.
The former secretary of Contreras, the highest repressor of Pinochet’s dictatorship, allegedly participated in the “aggravated kidnapping” of Víctor Díaz, who was undersecretary of the Communist Party of Chile, in 1976, as well as those of Fernando Navarro, Lincoyán Berríos, Horacio Cepeda, Juan Fernando Ortíz, Héctor Veliz and Reinalda Pereira, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest.
Judge Stewart “has no doubt” that Rivas “was a member of the DINA and was present… when these arrests and murders took place,” lawyer Adriana Navarro, a representative of the families of six of the detainees-disappeared, told Efe at the end of the hearing in Sydney.
The Chilean-Australian lawyer clarified that while details of the atrocities attributed to Rivas were known, the judge only had to “determine that Rivas’ conduct is equivalent to criminal conduct in Australia.”
Long-breathing legal crossroads
But Rivas’ extradition is not yet imminent given that his lawyer Frank Santisi, who called the ruling “disappointing,” weighs the possibility of appealing him to the Federal Court within 15 days.
“I need Mrs. Rivas’ opinion,” she told Efe the lawyer, who refused to give details about who finances the thousands of dollars spent in the legal defense of this Chilean who has only one adult child in Australia.
A legal battle to the last instance, Australia’s High Court, could drag on for years, as was the case with the extradition of former Serbianparamilitary Dragan Vasiljkovic, whose extradition to Croatia for its involvement in atrocities during the Balkan War took nearly a decade.
First win in Australia
The ruling in favor of the extradition of Rivas, who fled Chile to Australia when he was on probation after traveling to his country to visit his family, was held by a group of activists outside the courthouse and by the relatives of the victims who were virtually connected.
“I feel immense joy that justice has been done with a person who tortured and killed many people,” he told Efe Juan Rivera, who carried a photograph of one of the victims and a red carnol.
Between chants of “extraditable” and enticed with Chilean flags, Nancy Rivera Huencho acknowledged that “it is one of many battles, but we are willing to continue fighting for the missing detainees.”
For some Chilean activists, including refugees, the Rivas process is at the tip of the iceberg of dozens of cases of secret Pinochet ex-agents apparently living in impunity in Australia since the late 1980s and early 1990s whose identities are unknown.
Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1972-75) came to confirm the cooperation of the Australian secret services with the US CIA in the fall of the Salvador Allende government, overthrown in Pinochet’s coup.
“It has been written, and I cannot deny it, that when I took over the Government, Australian intelligence personnel were working as CIA delegates on the destabilization of the Government of Chile,” he saidhe had Whitlam in his day.