Spain will diminish global reach of its courts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 1:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 1:31am


Spain's parliament has approved a ruling-party proposal that will severely curb the powers of the country's courts to pursue cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed abroad.

The universal jurisdiction reform includes a clause to halt current investigations, including one in which arrest warrants have been issued for several former Chinese leaders for alleged genocide in Tibet. The government announced plans for the reform after China expressed anger over the case and hinted it could damage relations.

The conservative Popular Party proposal was approved late on Tuesday and the government is expected to write it into law in the coming weeks.

Opposition groups accused the government of bowing to pressure from China, but Popular Party spokesman Alfonso Alonso said the reform was necessary to avoid "useless disputes that only generate diplomatic conflicts".

Under the bill, Spanish judges will be able to prosecute crimes against humanity committed abroad only if the suspect is Spanish, a foreign resident in Spain or a foreigner whose extradition has been denied by Spain.

Spain has long been seen as a leading proponent of universal jurisdiction, with former judge Baltasar Garzon using it to try to prosecute al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In practice, very few inquiries have seen people brought to trial in Spain.

Human Rights Watch and other groups issued a statement this week saying the bill "would close the doors of Spanish courts to the victims of grave human-rights violations who are unlikely otherwise to be able to obtain justice, particularly within their own jurisdictions".