Spain Parliament approves proposal to curb universal jurisdiction powers

[JURIST] Spain's Parliament [official website] on Tuesday approved a bill [press release, in Spanish] that will diminish the powers of Spanish courts to pursue cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed abroad. The bill [text, PDF, in Spanish] includes a clause to halt current investigations, including the arrest warrants issued [JURIST report] on Monday for several former Chinese leaders for their involvement in the alleged genocide in Tibet. The government announced plans for the universal jurisdiction reform after China expressed disapproval of the investigation and pressured the Spanish government to stop the prosecution. Under the bill, Spanish courts would be able to prosecute crimes against humanity committed abroad only if the suspect is a Spanish citizen, a foreigner residing in Spain or a foreigner whose extradition has been denied by Spain. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] and other rights groups on Monday issued a joint statement [text, PDF] opposing universal jurisdiction reform in Spain, stating that the bill will "close the doors of Spanish courts to victims of grave human rights violations who are unlikely otherwise to be able to obtain justice, particularly within their own jurisdictions." The government is expected to write the bill into law in the coming weeks.

Spain has assertively used universal jurisdiction, creating political friction within the international community. In October, a Spanish court indicted [JURIST report] former Chinese president Hu Jintao over the alleged genocide against Tibetans. Also in October, the Spanish government summoned [JURIST report] US Ambassador to Spain James Costos to discuss spying allegations in light of documents released by former National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. In April 2011, the Spanish National Court agreed to turn over [JURIST report] to the US an investigation of torture claims at Guantanamo Bay, after increased pressure from the US. In 2009, the Spanish Congress limited the country's universal jurisdiction statute [JURIST report]. Unlike the recent bill, the 2009 law only applied prospectively, allowing any on-going investigations to proceed, including investigations of Israeli actions in Gaza in 2002, detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay and allegations of war crimes and genocide in Rwanda, Tibet, Guatemala, and China [JURIST reports]

 

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