Home News Rights group blasts Spanish move to curb foreign judicial probes

Rights group blasts Spanish move to curb foreign judicial probes

Published on 22/05/2009

Madrid — Human Rights Watch blasted a move by Spanish lawmakers to limit the scope the country’s judges have to probe alleged human rights crimes in other countries as "a step backwards."

"Spain’s law is generous and it became a magnet for victims who did not find justice in their own countries. This amendment is very disappointing," the spokesman for US-based group, Reed Brody, said in a statement.

"There is no excess of universal jurisdiction in the world, there is an excess of impunity," he said, adding he believed Spain was taking steps to change its law due to diplomatic pressure just like Belgium did in 2003.

Spanish lawmakers from across the political spectrum voted Tuesday in favour of a resolution calling for an "urgent reform" of the principle of "universal jurisdiction" which the country has observed since 2005 that will "limit and clarify its reach."

It recommends that the principle only apply to cases where the alleged perpetrators of a crime are in Spain or the victims are Spanish.

Spanish judges would also not be allowed to open a probe if the authorities in the country where the alleged events took place were already investigating it themselves under the proposed changes made in the resolution.

The resolution is only a recommendation but it could serve as the basis for a future reform of the principle of universal jurisdiction and its passage is a sign that there is a political consensus on the need for reform.

Spain’s National Court, the country’s top criminal court, currently has 13 cases open involving genocide or crimes against humanity affecting eight countries: China, Israel, the United States, Guatemala, El Salvador, Rwanda, Morocco and Germany.

Both China and Israel have recently voiced their displeasure at moves by Spanish judges to open probes into what they consider to be internal affairs.

"I understand how politics works and the diplomatic friction that universal jurisdiction produces, but when a country rises up to defend human rights, it does so despite the diplomatic cost," said Brody.

While the probes opened by Spanish judge have for the most part produced few concrete results, campaigners argue the inquires have increased pressure on suspected human rights abusers by making it more difficult for them to travel abroad for fear of arrest.

The inquiries also encouraged nations where the alleged crimes took place to open their own probes, they say.

Earlier this year the National Court, Spain’s top criminal court, issued a request to question eight Chinese leaders as official suspects in a case of genocide in connection with a crackdown on unrest that erupted in Tibet in March 2008.

It also said it was going ahead with a probe into alleged crimes against humanity by top Israeli military figures over an air force bombing in Gaza in 2002 that killed 15 people despite objections from Spanish public prosecutors.

Under pressure from the United States and Israel, Brussels in 2003 altered a decade-old law of universal jurisdiction, which was similar to Spain’s, to allow judges to open probes only in cases where there is a link to Belgium.