Spain amends law to abolish court’s universal justice power


(, Mar14, 2014) – As in the lower house in Feb 2014, an amendment of the law to severely curtail the power of the judiciary to try crimes against humanity cases no matter where they are committed was passed by the Spanish Senate on Mar 12 with votes only of the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) which sponsored it. Among its immediate effects would be the quashing of two cases against top retired leaders of China for their genocidal rights violations in occupied Tibet unless the amendment is annulled on appeal by the country’s constitution court.

The amendment also means that the only national court which has hitherto exercised its universal jurisdiction to act in cases involving crimes against humanity no matter where they are committed will no longer be able to do so.

Concerning perpetrators of such crimes, the amendment means that from now on, crimes committed outside Spanish territory may be prosecuted in Spain only if the alleged perpetrators are Spaniards or foreigners who acquired Spanish citizenship after the commission of the offense. This means that former Chinese President and party general secretary Jiang Zemin, his successor Hu Jintao, former Premier Li Peng and several others will no longer be investigated and tried for their genocidal crimes in occupied Tibet by the Spanish National Court.

During the Mar 12 debate in the Senate, the opposition reproached the ruling PP for “meddling” in judicial matters. The amendment was criticized by the opposition both for its essence, which they said “opens the door” to impunity, and for the way it was presented, namely via expedited procedure that limited legislative debate, reported Mar 13.

PP spokesman Alfonso Alonso declared it was necessary to eliminate universal jurisdiction because it “only brings conflict.”

Spain’s judiciary first invoked universal jurisdiction in 1998, when National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon indicted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He was later detained by police in London on an arrest warrant issued through the Interpol and held there for 17 month. The octogenarian was later released on health ground.

The opposition Socialist Party has already declared that it will appeal the amendment before the country’s constitutional court. If the amendment is upheld, it will mean the end to a dozen cases currently under investigation by the Spanish judiciary.

The idea behind universal jurisdiction is that a state may prosecute individuals who are not its citizens, who have committed serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and torture outside its territory or against its nationals. Spain integrated the doctrine into its national legislation in 1985, but later diluted it a bit in 2009 under diplomatic pressure from governments, including China, whose leaders were sought to be indicted for such crimes.


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