Spain’s National Court has agreed to hear charges of genocide against former Chinese President Hu Jintao.
On Thursday, the court’s criminal division ruled in favour of an appeal by Tibetan exile groups allowing the indictment of Hu, a request which had been dismissed in June by the same court.
The court, which handles crimes against humanity and genocide, argued that the earlier decision had to be overturned because one of the plaintiffs, Thubten Wangchen, is a Spanish citizen and because China had not carried out its own investigation into the allegations.
“There’ll be some sort of diplomatic reaction,” said Nina Jorgensen, an associate professor at the Chinese Univeristy of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law. “China has been very much against these proceedings.”
“But in all likelihood, not a lot will happen,” she cautioned. “The case brings attention to the issue and gives the victims at least an opportunity to bring attention to their claims.”
Spanish courts can hear cases of crimes against humanity wherever they occur outside its national territory on the legal principle of universal competence. In 2009, the universality was limited to cases in which Spanish citizens are victims of such crimes.
The court’s decision follows lengthy proceedings which started in 2008, when Tibetan activist groups, one of them headed by Wangchen, asked the court to hold seven Chinese state leaders, including former President Jiang Zemin and former Premier Li Peng, responsible for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Chinese government in Tibet. China denounced the trial proceedings.
Hu Jintao served as Communist Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region between 1988 and 1992, overseeing a crackdown on anti-Chinese riots in 1989.
The court “recognises that this genocide is against the country of Tibet and against the Tibetan nation, and the judges recognise that this indictment of Hu Jintao comes at the precise judicial moment ‘when his diplomatic immunity expires’”, the Madrid-based Comité de Apoyo al Tíbet, a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement.