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Reviews Personal view

Diagnosing Pinochet syndrome

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 19 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:185
  1. Mary E Black (, public health physician
  1. Belgrade

    It is time that Pinochet syndrome entered the medical lexicon. The triad of defining features is (1) ill health, which is (2) cited as a reason to delay or stop extradition and judicial investigations into crimes against humanity by (3) a deposed or former national leader. All reported cases so far have been in men, mostly elderly.

    Pinochet syndrome was originally coined by the New York Times in 1999 to describe a new malady stalking the presidential palaces and bunkers of the world. In the international human rights lexicon it has mutated into the “Pinochet precedent,” after a Spanish judge was able to have Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator from 1973 to 1990, arrested while in London for medical care. Since then an increasing number of successful legal actions against former dictators has occurred. The charity Human Rights Watch notes that this shows how far we have come from the days when despots could terrorise their own …

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