Spain Moves to Block Case Against Chinese Leaders

One day after a Spanish judge called for the detention of former Chinese leaders for questioning on human rights violations in Tibet, the country’s lower house narrowly approved a new law to limit such cases. Reuters’ Fiona Ortiz and Ben Blanchard reported on the judge’s request and China’s response:

High Court Judge Ismael Moreno asked Interpol to issue orders for the detention of former President Jiang Zemin, ex-premier Li Peng and three other officials for questioning on charges brought by Tibetan rights groups in Spain.

[…] “Jiang exercised supervisory authority over the people who directly committed abuses, which makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet,” Moreno wrote in the order, citing lawyers for the Tibetan plaintiffs.

[…] “(China) is extremely dissatisfied with and resolutely opposed to the wrong actions of the relevant Spanish organ taken while ignoring China’s solemn position,” China’s Foreign Ministry said it would tell Spain.

“Whether or not this issue can be appropriately dealt with is related to the healthy development of ties,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing. “We hope the Spanish government can distinguish right from wrong.” [Source]

At The Wall Street Journal, Matt Moffett described the legislation, drafted after arrest warrants were issued for the five officials last November:

The proposed law, which was criticized by human-rights groups, Spain’s opposition parties and part of its judiciary, could also torpedo other human-rights cases now in Spanish courts, including some against U.S. authorities and military personnel for actions taken during the country’s war on terror launched by former President George W. Bush. The bill is expected to become law because the governing Popular Party also has a majority in the Senate, where it will go next.

The bill would constrain the Spanish judiciary’s exercise of “universal jurisdiction,” the principle Spanish judges have used to prosecute international human rights cases, most notably one against the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet after he had stepped down as president. A Spanish investigative judge in 1998 ordered Mr. Pinochet’s arrest in London, where he was detained for a year and a half before being released.

Universal justice “promises a lot, but doesn’t achieve anything more than diplomatic conflicts,” Alfonso Alonso, the spokesman for the Popular Party delegation in Congress, said in January. Indeed, while Spanish judges’ international activism has won them praise from rights activists, it has often caused friction with some of Spain’s key economic partners. [Source]

The New York Times’ Jim Yardley noted that there have been other pressures for an end to the use of universal jurisdiction in Spain:

American pressure became evident in the diplomatic cables released in 2010 by WikiLeaks. Citing the cables, El País, a leading Spanish newspaper, reported that American diplomats pressured the Spanish government to derail judicial investigations linked to the Iraq war, the military prison at Guantánamo Bay and secret C.I.A. flights transporting terrorism suspects.

Under that pressure, Spain’s government, then controlled by the Socialist Party, weakened the law in 2009, leading to the dismissal of several cases. Human rights advocates argue that a double standard has emerged — where it is acceptable to prosecute abuses in weak countries but not in global powers.

[…] Indeed, Spain is now on the receiving end of such international litigation, as a judge in Argentina is investigating war crimes committed during the era of the Spanish dictator Franco. Popular Party leaders are chafing at that case, and some analysts say that the pressure from China has provided an excuse for the government to dilute a legal doctrine that has brought diplomatic headaches. [Source]

February 11, 2014 3:00 PM
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