Slow justice

At long last a breakthrough in the case of Boris Weisfeiler, the Penn State mathematics professor who disappeared while hiking in southern Chile in 1985: Judge Jorge Zepeda has ordered the arrests of eight police and army officials.

According to the indictment, a police patrol arrested Weisfeiler and tried to disguise the fact by claiming he had drowned while crossing a river. Three police officers, along with four members of the Chilean army patrolling the area, have been charged with kidnapping and concealment and a fourth police officer has been named as an accomplice.

The case has meant “many, many years of frustration,” according to Weisfeiler’s sister Olga, who has visited Chile almost every year since the investigation was reopened in 2000.  That was the year the Clinton administration declassified hundreds of documents dealing with Chile, including several cables in which the mathematician’s disappearance is discussed . In one document, an informant tells U.S. Embassy officials in Santiago that Weisfeiler had been held captive in Colonia Dignidad, a German cult whose facilities were frequently used by the Pinochet regime’s secret police.

The indictments were announced just as a delegation from the United Nations Working Group on Forced Disappearances completed a visit to Chile to study how the government has handled such investigations.  A full report will be presented to the U.N. human rights council early next year, but a preliminary statement on their findings was released on Tuesday, August 21.

The statement cited “the slowness of judicial proceedings, the application of military justice to current cases of human rights violations, the absence of an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance and the lack of a national plan to search for disappeared persons.”  Of those cases in which former Pinochet officials had been found guilty, “very few of the convicted perpetrators are effectively serving a sentence, due to the low penalties imposed or other benefits granted.”  The U.N. experts were impressed by the work of Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal, but urged the government to strengthen its role in investigating these cases, noting that most initiatives were led by victims’ relatives.

The full text of the statement in Spanish: