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Government must act on extradition request for alleged murderer and torturer

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 22 Jun 2015

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (22:09): Last week I met a remarkable and brave woman. Her name is Lorena Pizarro. For many years Lorena has travelled the world seeking answers—and justice—about crimes that are unthinkable for those of us who have never lived in a country that has been riven by warfare or internal conflict. Lorena is the President of the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Chile. She is seeking answers about disappearances and tortures. She attended my Parliament House office with members of the National Campaign for Truth and Justice in Chile.

Lorena Pizarro was seven when General Augusto Pinochet launched a military coup against his Chilean president, Salvador Allende. The coup followed a period of unrest against the Socialist president, fomented by the United States government. The military abolished the civilian government and established a junta that brutally repressed left-wing political activity both domestically and abroad. The United States government, which had worked to create the conditions for the coup, promptly recognised the junta government and supported it in consolidating power. That period lasted for 17 long years.

As a child Lorena Pizarro saw her home raided and four of her uncles detained. Her family was forced to move constantly because both of her parents were being hunted by the military. In December 1976,when she was 10 years old, her father was kidnapped and he disappeared into thin air. She never saw him again. He was a living, breathing, relatively young man—intelligent, with hopes and ambitions—and she loved him. He was her dad. She never saw him again and never knew what happened to him. Since that time, Lorena has searched for her father. Well, really she hasn't—she knows she will never see him again—but she is searching for the truth about what happened to him. And, more importantly, she is searching for a form of justice—for herself and for the many, many others whose family members disappeared—so that it will never happen again.

Lorena is in Australia to lobby the Australian government, and gain support from Australians from all walks of life, for the extradition of a woman called Adriana Rivas, who lives in Sydney. There are serious allegations that Ms Rivas was intimately involved in horrific crimes 40 years ago in support of the actions of the military dictator Pinochet during Chile's coup from 1973 to1990.  It is alleged that Adriana Rivas was part of the National Intelligence Directorate's Lautaro Brigade, whose purpose was to eliminate those who opposed the government. Witnesses allege that part of her job was to extract confessions from prisoners before they were murdered.

In 1978, Rivas left Chile to live in Australia and travelled freely back and forth to her home country. However in 2006, while visiting family and friends in Chile, she was arrested, charged and held for three months. Rivas was allowed out of prison on bail on the condition that she report to authorities each month and remain in the country. Four years later, in 2010, she fled to Argentina and returned to Australia. In January last year. Chile's Supreme Court issued an extradition order for Ms Rivas.  The court was unanimous in its decision to make the request, because her offences related to 'crimes against humanity'. Ms Rivas continues to live in Sydney.

The charges against Ms Rivas include kidnapping, torture and murder. I am speaking on this matter with caution not to interfere in legal proceedings because I think it is essential that Ms Rivas face these serious allegations in Chilean courts. The law enforcement agencies of the Australian government have been aware of the Chilean government's request for the arrest and extradition of Ms Rivas since August 2013—and the case has been publicised in the Australian and Chilean media. Australian representatives of the National Campaign for Truth and Social Justice in Chile are concerned that Adriana Rivas might take advantage of the delay in executing the international arrest warrant to flee the Australian jurisdiction and go into hiding.

I comment on this matter with caution. But the Chilean government's request for extradition is already a matter of public knowledge; indeed, it was written up in The Saturday Paper last weekend. Despite letters and requests to our Australian government, no good reason has been given to justify the unusual delay in acting. I am mindful that there is serious concern Ms Rivas might take the opportunity to abscond and so I am taking up this opportunity to call on the Australian government to execute the international arrest warrant issued against Ms Rivas as a matter of urgency.

It is important to note that torture and capital punishment are illegal in Chile now, and Ms Rivas is not at risk of being subject to either of those. Officially, Chile has made two extradition requests for Ms Rivas. The first involved an allegation against Ms Rivas—that she was involved in the 'aggravated kidnapping' of Victor Diaz on 12 May 1976. The second order came as a result of Ms Riva's alleged involvement in the kidnapping and torture of seven Chilean citizens—six men and one woman. Among the alleged victims is Reinalda del Carmen Pereira Plaza, a medical technician who was also five months' pregnant when she disappeared. A report by the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation states that:
Since the day of her arrest nothing is known about the fate or whereabouts of Reinalda or the child she was expecting.

Another alleged victim of Ms Rivas is Fernando Ortiz, a prominent professor from the University of Chile. His daughter, Estela Ortiz, told ABC's Foreign Correspondent program in 2014 that she believes "Adriana Rivas has to face justice... I think it's the only way for her to live relatively in peace. I believe she has to testify like any other Chilean."

Meanwhile Australia's Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, has been sitting on this decision for over a year now, while the families and friends of those who were tortured and 'disappeared' by the Pinochet regime are forced to wait for justice.

Having met Lorena and seen her anguish, I can understand why families of the disappeared desperately want those who were responsible held to account. These are just a few of the countless stories of the thousands of families who saw family members 'disappeared' during the 17 years of Pinochet's of rule. For those of you who might be hearing this and are interested in following this up, there is a very moving song that was written by Sting, called They dance alone. It captures the heartbreaking anguish and loneliness of the women who dance alone in memory of their men or their sons who were 'disappeared' during that time. They will never know what happened to them and they are left alone to mourn and seek justice.
Lorena Pizarro does not understand why Australia has taken so long to grant Chile's extradition request, and I must say neither do I.

The Australian government must respond appropriately under the terms of the Extradition Treaty that was signed by Chile and Australia in 1996 so that the Chilean community can be assured that Ms Rivas will be brought to trial and perhaps some answers will be found. These are serious allegations that Adriana Rivas was intimately involved in the horrific actions of the Pinochet regime and she must face these allegations in a Chilean court. In Australia we say that torture is never, ever justified. I urge the Australian government to uphold this strong belief on the part of the Australian community and to act urgently in regard of this case. It will not bring back those who 'disappeared' under that regime, but it may bring some answers.

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