Another day, another non-Spanish leader or ex-leader being charged with crimes against humanity in a Spanish court … but perhaps not for long:
Spain’s MPs voted on Tuesday to push forward with a bill that limits the power of Spanish judges to pursue criminal cases outside the country, a move that human rights organisations said would end Spain’s leading role as an enforcer of international justice.
Last month, the ruling People’s party (PP) tabled a fast-track legal change to curb the use of universal jurisdiction, a provision in international law that allows judges to try cases of human rights abuses committed in other countries. Since being adopted into Spanish law nearly two decades ago, the doctrine has allowed Spanish judges to reach beyond their borders and investigate serious human rights abuses in countries such as Argentina, Rwanda and Guatemala.
Its use put the Spanish justice system into the headlines at times — most famously for the 1998 arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.
“This reform makes it even harder to probe into severe human rights abuses,” said Ignacio Jovtis, of Amnesty International Spain. “It’s a step backwards for human rights and justice.”
Nearly two dozen international human rights groups have spoken out against the change, calling it political interference in the justice system and urging the government to abandon the reform.
It’s one thing to provide a venue for pursuing violations of civil rights, but it’s quite another to allow your justice system to become an international laughingstock. Spain’s legal system has come dangerously close to the latter with the current law in place. It certainly has created some awkward situations like this:
MPs voted to push ahead with the move a day after a court in Spain ordered Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, as well as four senior Chinese officials, over alleged human rights abuses in Tibet decades ago.
The arrest orders come just as Spain is seeking to lift its sagging economy by deepening trade relations with the Asian superpower.
China issued a sharp rebuke, leaving little question that the issue had strained ties between the two countries. “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the erroneous acts taken by the Spanish agencies in disregard of China’s position,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, at a daily briefing.