In January 1985, during the rule of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Boris Weisfeiler, a Professor of Mathematics at Pennsylvania State University, disappeared while hiking alone in the Andes. According to the hundreds of United States declassified documents, it appears that Dr. Weisfeiler was kidnapped, questioned and tortured by the Chilean military and eventually executed.
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In 2012, the Chilean Judge of the Court of Appeals, Jorge Zepeda, indicted 8 Chilean police and military officers for this crime. Indictments assured that those accused would be prosecuted for aggravated kidnapping and complicity in hiding information on Dr. Weisfeiler’s whereabouts. CCS, as well as the Weisfeiler family, were very hopeful that justice would prevail.
In 2015, Chilean authorities communicated with CCS that there was some movement in the country to address the human rights violations that occurred during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Authorities also pointed out that the human rights program of the Ministry of Interior recently joined the investigation into Dr. Weisfeiler’s disappearance. However, Judge Jorge Zepeda abruptly closed his investigation a month later.
This week we learned that Judge Jorge Zepeda issued his final ruling. The Judge ruled that the human rights atrocity only qualified as a common crime and he applied the statute of limitations that would be applicable to such. All accused in the crime were acquitted. CCS has written the Chilean President requesting that the ruling be overturned and the case be reopened and appropriately investigated.
March 22, 2016
Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet
President of the Republic of Chile
Palacio de La Moneda
Dear Madame President:
The Committee of Concerned Scientists is an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world. We write today to express our profound disappointment at the sudden closing of the case on the disappearance of Dr. Boris Weisfeiler, who had been a professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania State University in the United States and a member of our Committee.
Much evidence has been uncovered to indicate that Dr. Weisfeiler, who disappeared while hiking in Chile in January 1985, was the victim of a serious human rights violation – an extra-judicial execution – a crime for which in Chile there is no legal basis to assert a statute of limitations. Nonetheless, Judge Jorge Zepeda, a judge recently appointed to be the president of the Santiago Court of Appeals, appears to have ignored this evidence in making his decision to abruptly and permanently close the investigation. (Note: Judge Jorge Zepeda was “investigating” the Boris Weisfeiler case over the past 11 years, since May 2005.)
Judge Zepeda ruled that Dr. Weisfeiler’s disappearance was just a common crime and therefore statutes of limitations were applicable. But this seems to contradict his earlier indictment in 2012 when he charged 8 police and military officers with the aggravated kidnapping of Boris Weisfeiler under the incorrect assumption that he was a foreign “extremist”.
According to the New York Times, documents from the U.S. government declassified in the year 2000 suggest that Dr. Weisfeiler was indeed detained by a military patrol that then turned him over to a notorious German enclave called Colonia Dignidad, where he was “savagely interrogated” and then executed.
While this account has not been proven, it certainly warrants deeper investigation. As you know, human rights abuses were rife in Chile in the 1970’s and 1980’s under the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet, and a culture of impunity for these crimes prevailed.
Chile has done an admirable job of rolling back that culture of impunity, in part by asserting that statutes of limitations do not apply in cases of human rights abuse. We are deeply concerned that, by failing to fully investigate abuses when evidence strongly suggests more than just a common crime, the courts have taken a step back and have opened the door to the re-emergence of a sense of impunity for human rights crimes.
Dr. Weisfeiler deserves better. On behalf of his family, we urge your government to return to the good work of building a culture of respect for human rights in Chile, and to find a way to overturn the final ruling made by Judge Zepeda and reopen this case.
Sincerely,Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich,
Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists
Juan Gabriel Valdéz
Ambassador of Chile to the United States
Embassy of Chile in the United States of America
1732 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: +1-202-887 5579
Minister of Justice and Human Rights
c/o Embassy of Chile in the United States of America
1732 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036