A court ruled Friday that former dictator Augusto Pinochet can be sued for human rights violations in the 1970s and 1980s, after a TV interview raised questions about Supreme Court rulings that he is unfit for trial.
The 14-to-9 vote by the Santiago Court of Appeals startled lawyers on both sides of the case, as well as victims' families. Prosecution lawyer Juan Subercasseaux called the ruling "a miracle."
"We receive this with deep surprise but also with deep pride," said the chief prosecutor on the case, Francisco Bravo. "This ruling makes the relatives of the victims and the whole of Chilean society again trust Chile's justice."
The decision, which lifts the immunity Pinochet enjoyed as a former president, could clear the way for him to face human rights charges. His attorney said Pinochet would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly said that Pinochet, 88, cannot stand trial because of poor mental and physical health.
A report in 2002 by court-appointed doctors stated that Pinochet suffered from a mild case of dementia. He also uses a pacemaker, has diabetes and arthritis, and has suffered at least three mild strokes since 1998, when he was arrested in London.
Last November, however, Pinochet appeared in an interview with a Miami-based Spanish-language television station, saying he saw himself "as a good angel" and blaming the abuses of his regime on subordinates.
During the interview, Pinochet sat holding a cane. His speech was slurred, but he was lucid.
"Pinochet had been granting interviews, going to restaurants, going out shopping and he continues to administer his assets," prosecutor Hugo Gutierrez said. "He's not crazy or sick."
A report by the civilian government that succeeded Pinochet said 3,197 people died or disappeared during his rule.