Dharamshala: – Spanish legislation that will limit the concept of universal jurisdiction – a fundamental component of international law – is set to be formally approved in the Spanish government in the upcoming weeks, reports the Tibet Justice Center (TJC).
Universal jurisdiction is the idea that some crimes (such as state-sponsored torture) are so serious they are injurious to the entire global community, and thus should be tried by a judge, even if the alleged crimes occurred outside a judge's formal jurisdiction. On February 11 the Spanish Parliament voted in support of a bill limiting the power of the Spanish judiciary to investigate human rights abuses that occur outside of Spain's borders.
TJC, in a press release related to the incident, argued the Parliament's decision arrived "in response to Chinese pressure over a high profile Tibet lawsuit that resulted in arrest warrants being issued for five Chinese leaders." These five leaders included former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and they have been accused of serious human rights abuses committed in Tibet throughout the past decades.
The Spanish legal team arguing on behalf of Tibetans is concerned with the legislation, and believes "this is a test case for Europe." The TJC agrees on the importance of this case: "The Spanish government should not set a dangerous precedent that would affect the whole system of international law by allowing an authoritarian government, in this case China, to decide how it should be applied."
Iona Liddell of the TJC believes the pressure China is exerting on Spain is part of a larger push for a more forceful Chinese line on European issues. She specifically cites the case of British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to China, during which the regime made clear it would not ignore the UK's comments about the Asian power. "The worry is that European democracies will choose trade with China over upholding democratic norms and human dignity, which is a very dangerous road to go down," Ms Liddell argues.
The decision on universal jurisdiction is not without further implications. Already the international community has seen what such a precedent can do, as Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon invoked the legal concept in 1998 to arrest the Chilean dictator General Pinochet while he was in Britain.
Regarding the future, the new legislation would weaken the Spanish Judiciary's powers to a point where it would have to shelve ten further cases. The TJC notes that one of these cases applies to the United States' actions in its Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which is notorious for harsh treatment of inmates.
The legal team arguing against the five Chinese leaders has appeared at several events and granted various interviews throughout the past month. These included talks focused around the Spanish case's significance for international law, as well as its implications on the interplay between China and Tibet.
By participating in these events, the team is seeking to engage the public "to declare that the reforms to Spanish law would be counter to Spain's constitution and international law," reports the TJC.