Australia's Chilean extradition test



Five years ago, the Chilean courts made an extradition request to Australia, to return former National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) agent Adriana Rivas to face justice for her role in the kidnapping, torture and disappearances of seven dictatorship opponents affiliated with the Chilean Communist Party and the Revolutionary Left Movement.

Adriana RivasOn 19 February, the news that Rivas had been arrested spread like wildfire. The National Campaign for Truth and Justice in Chile broke the news on its Facebook page with the words, 'This news is real. Adriana Rivas was arrested today in Sydney.'

Throughout the five years since the first extradition request, Chileans mobilised at home and abroad to ramp up pressure on the authorities. In 2017, the Chilean courts submitted further information to the Australian authorities regarding Rivas' involvement in crimes of genocide during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship's early years.

Rivas has been living in Australia since 1978, working as a nanny and a cleaner. In 2006 while visiting relatives in Chile, she was charged with kidnapping, torture and disappearance of dictatorship opponents and released on bail. She fled Chile while still on bail in 2009 and returned to Australia. A 2013 interview with SBS where Rivas defended the use of torture in the Pinochet era and stated that her best years 'were the ones I lived in the DINA' drew the attention of Chileans at home and abroad, igniting the campaign to extradite Rivas to Chile.

Rivas formed part of the Lautaro Brigade and worked at the detention and extermination centre Cuartel Simon Bolivar. Jorgelino Vergara Bravo, a former errand boy for DINA chief Manuel Contreras who later became a DINA member, has publicly attested to seeing Rivas torturing detainees, stating, 'She wouldn't kill them, but she would leave them for dead.' Investigative journalist Javier Rebolledo has stated that torture was a DINA requirement that no agent was able to opt out of.

In terms of Chilean memory, Pinochet's legacy of impunity has created many obstacles to justice. Rivas is one of many agents who managed to abscond and live freely until a few days ago. In Chile, one of the contradictions which torture survivors mention is living in a society where former torturers walk free, never having been charged with crimes, or else served meagre prison sentences that do not correspond to the human rights violations committed.

This traces back to the Pinochet era which falsified, or invented, a memory in order to protect perpetrators from repercussions. Disappearing dictatorship opponents was one way of fortifying the state's official narrative. Without a body to mourn and bury, the dictatorship bought itself enough time to secure impunity against forthcoming calls for justice.


"Australia has long maintained diplomatic relations with Chile. Yet, despite welcoming thousands of refugees fleeing Pinochet's dictatorship, it also played a role in facilitating the dictatorship."


DINA's pact of silence, as well as the military's refusal since Chile's transition to democracy to collaborate with the courts, has impeded closure for relatives of the disappeared. It also sought to ensure impunity for the agents involved in kidnapping, torture, extermination and disappearance. If Rivas is extradited to Chile to face trial, relatives of the disappeared might be able to glean information regarding the ultimate fate of their loved ones.

Rivas appeared in Sydney's Central Local Court through video link and did not apply for bail. The hearing was adjourned until 1 March.

Lawyer Adriana Navarro, who represents relatives of the disappeared in the Rivas case, declared the arrest 'a landmark', due to it being the first case that makes use of the extradition treaty between Chile and Australia. Differences between the justice processes in both countries contributed to the long span of five years before Rivas' arrest, which starts the process of possibly extraditing the former DINA agent to her home country.

If the Australian courts are satisfied with the presented evidence against Rivas, it will be ruled that she satisfies the requirements for extradition. Rivas will be able to appeal the decision legally.

Australia has long maintained diplomatic relations with Chile. Yet, despite welcoming thousands of refugees fleeing Pinochet's dictatorship, it also played a role in facilitating the dictatorship. An SBS report states that agents from the Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) were collaborating to undermine Salvador Allende's socialist government. In later years, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) liaised with Pinochet and the CIA.

It is therefore no surprise that the country has welcomed Chileans from the right and left wing of the political spectrum. The SBS report also mentions that members of Chile's secret police under Pinochet were seeking relocation to Australia, the result being a replica of Chile's social fabric albeit in a foreign country: former torturers and refugees sharing the same space. 

If the Australian government approves of Rivas's extradition, it will have taken a step towards rectifying its collaboration with the Pinochet dictatorship. Almost 46 years since Chile was ravaged, and as a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, Australia should embrace its moral and political responsibility to collaborate, through the appropriate legal channels, towards the Chilean quest for justice and memory.



Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Adriana Rivas, Pinochet, Chile



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Existing comments

JUSTICE HAS NO USE BY DATE Anyone who can remember the 1970s will recall the coup of September 1973 in Chile which saw the overthrow of validly democratically elected President Allende. Those who followed subsequent events and read Thomas Hauser’s book “Missing” or Sheila Cassidy’s “Audacity to Believe” would be aware of the allegations made against the Pinochet regime of torture and brutality. That the CIA was implicated does not surprise me. That ASIS was upsets me. It is indeed a matter of justice that Australia cooperate with Chile and accedes to its request for Rivas’ to be returned to Chile to face the courts.
Ern Azzopardi | 27 February 2019

I would imagine, after due process, which is necessary, because we are not a dictatorship like Chile was, Adriana Rivas will be extradited. Many very, very nasty people like her came to Australia from all parts of the world among the genuine refugees who wished to start a new life. I'd love to know how Rivas skipped Chile whilst on bail. Sadly, Western intelligence agencies did cooperate with dictatorships like Pinochet's on the grounds they were anti-Communist. Salvador Allende was not a Communist. I do not think he was planning to turn Chile into a dictatorship. Many left-wing activists in South America, like the former President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, were perfectly wedded to democracy. I hope Rivas receives justice, as I am sure she will if extradited to Chile. Sadly, I don't think the slate will be wiped clean with Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, co-operating with Chile during the Pinochet years.
Edward Fido | 27 February 2019

A bland, boring and normal person one day and an evil bland, boring and normal person the next, or, actually, the same bland, boring and normal person who just happens to do something extra the next day, that just happens to be evil, without any real change of personality: Eichmann, Rivas and the hitherto personable Hutu fellow next door in Rwanda, all of the sort of amiables one might see browsing the aisles on a Saturday afternoon at some version of Woolworths.
roy chen yee | 09 March 2019


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