Tibetan, international organizations reject Spain's decision to limit universal jurisdiction of courts

Human rights groups argue decision by Spain's Popular Party amounts to a "violation of international obligations" by Spain · International Campaign for Tibet considers Spain has folded to pressure from Beijing · Bill has been passed only one day after Spanish judge had issued arrest warrant against former Chinese President Jiang

Tibetan groups and international human rights organizations have accused the Spanish Parliament, and specially Spain's ruling party PP, of helping human rights violators to remain unpunished and of yelding to the pressure of Chinese authorities. Criticism has been sparked after the Congress of Deputies (Spain's lower chamber) passed on Tuesday a bill to limit universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity.

The PP proposal gathered 179 votes for and 163 against, those of opposition parties. PP Spokesman Alfonso Alonso vowed eliminate the principle of universal justice since "it only causes conflicts". The bill -which must now be voted by Spain's Senate- foresees that Spanish judges will only be able to investigate crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity if indictees are Spanish citizens or foreigners who have (or had) their habitual residence in Spain at the time when the crimes were committed. Therefore, the case of the five former Chinese leaders that have been required by the Spanish judiciary for alleged crimes of genocide in Tibet could be shelved. Among them are former Chinese President Jiang Zemin (picture) and former Prime Minister Li Peng.

Human rights organizations have critised the vote in the Spanish Congress. International Campaign for Tibet has specially stressed that Spain has folded to pressure from Beijing: "China, an authoritarian government, is able to directly request, and obtain, changes to the national legislation of a major European democracy such as Spain". The organization has called "democrats and citizens of the world" to realize these facts and to react against them.

Seventeen Catalan, Spanish and international organizations have issued an open letter in which they consider that the decision taken by PP MPs is a "violation of international obligations and could consecrate impunity of many responsible for serious crimes", because the obligation of "extraditing or prosecuting" would be shelved. Organizations recall that this "extradite or prosecute" principle is included in no less than six international treaties. "A devastating blow for universal jurisdiction and Spain's international commitments", the letter reads. The associations also warn that, "in violating its international obligations", Spain could end up before international courts, not to say that the bill "damages the international reputation of Spain", which will be left out of "the common struggle by European Union members against impunity of crimes under international law".

Meanwhile, Tibetan monk and director of Barcelona's House of Tibet Thubten Wangchen (one of the plaintiffs against the Chinese leaders) has also been upset by the decision, he has told Spanish newspaper El País in an interview. Wangchen says the whole case is only the reflection of a decision by Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, whom he accuses of "changing human rights and freedom for economy", a choice that is "a disgrace" for Spain.

Bill on vote a day after the arrest warrant

PP MPs have passed the bill only one day after Spain's Audiencia Nacional judge Ismael Moreno had issued an international arrest warrant against Jiang. According to the indictment, Jiang and other Chinese senior leaders were aware of tortures, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests in Tibet. They are also accused of collusion with family planning policies that included forced sterilizations and abortions.

Immediately after this, the Chinese Government has protested against the alleged interference of the Spanish judiciary in China's internal affairs. Beijing has called Spain for the case to be shelved. Otherwise, the Chinese Government threatens to retaliate, a scenario that could negatively imapct economic relations between China and Spain. Spain has important trade ties with China and furthermore, 20% of the Spanish debt is in the hands of China.

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