Chile: Pinochet trial blocked

Chile’s appeals court has blocked the latest effort to bring former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet to justice for the disappearances and killings of thousands of political opponents including Communist Party members, following the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that overturned the Popular Unity government headed by Salvador Allende.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the coup, a 23-judge panel voted 15-8 last week to uphold his immunity from prosecution. Observers said the move makes efforts to bring Pinochet to trial on charges of covering up the killings and disappearances much more difficult.

Pinochet’s immunity was canceled three years ago, but later restored when the Supreme Court ruled he was unfit to stand trial because of dementia. In last month’s court case, lawyers for human rights groups said the former dictator demonstrated good mental condition when he recently addressed a meeting of retired generals.

S. Africa: Injured gold miners sue

South African gold companies including AngloGold, Anglo American, Gold Fields and Harmony may be liable for compensation under a class action suit on behalf of miners who contracted lung diseases because of bad ventilation in the mines.

The London-based law firm Leigh, Day says it is responding to a request from the community action group Bond Victims’ Association, by preparing a class action suit similar to that filed against tobacco firms in the U.S. The firm is basing its plans on the victory it helped win earlier this year for victims of South African asbestos mining. Earlier this year, former mining firm Gencor, without accepting any liability, agreed to compensate former workers who suffered asbestos-related illnesses.

Anglo American and Gold Fields are also being sued in the U.S. on charges of complicity with the former apartheid regime’s policies of extreme racist segregation.

China: Wal-Mart urged to unionize

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) says Wal-Mart has ignored its repeated efforts to talk to the retail giant about setting up trade unions for its workers.

“We have contacted Wal-Mart several times since its branch store opened in Beijing in July, but no progress has been made in establishing trade unions,” said localACFTU official Feng Lijun. No trade unions have been formed at other Chinese Wal-Marts, either.

ACFTU officials said Wal-Mart told them it has effective channels to resolve labor disputes, and pointed out that there are no unions at its U.S. stores.

The ACFTU said most foreign-funded supermarkets in Beijing have not established trade unions, which means their workers cannot become members of the ACFTU. Under Chinese law, all workers have the right to join a union, and companies must approve establishment of a union if three or more workers request it.

Brazil: Hundreds of slaves freed

Government inspectors, acting on a tip from a local politician, freed 849 workers being held under slave conditions on a coffee farm in the state of Bahia, the BBC reported last week. The workers had been forced to live in makeshift shelters which gave little protection from heat and rain. Over 70 of them were ill. The inspectors said it was unprecedented to free so many workers in a single operation.

Earlier this year, the government announced a wide-ranging plan to eradicate slave labor in Brazil, including more inspectors, and measures to ensure that farmers found with slave laborers on their property would go to prison as well as paying compensation.

So far this year, inspectors have freed more than 2,000 forced laborers, mostly in the Amazon region. However, many who have treated workers as forced labor are influential ranchers, some of whom have been elected to public office.

Indonesia: Safeguards urged for workers

Following last month’s terrorist bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, the Independent Federation of Tourism Sector Unions (FSPM), last week urged greater protection for tourism sites and tourism industry workers.

Expressing its deepest condolences to families of those wounded or killed, the federation called on the Indonesian police to monitor tourism sites closely to avoid another such tragedy.

In its statement, the FSPM said it “strongly condemns all terrorist acts targeting civilians and regards these as serious crimes for which there can be no justification, and which show no regard for the value of human dignity.”

The federation further called on the owners and management of the JW Marriott “to show concern for the fate of their workers and for their job security,” and to assure workers that their jobs will not be lost or their rights restricted because of the tragedy.

International Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (