Global Policy Forum

Spanish Court Agrees to Consider


By Mar Roman

Free New Mexican
January 11, 2006

A Spanish court on Tuesday agreed to consider a human rights group's lawsuit seeking genocide and other charges against China over its treatment of Tibet. The Madrid-based Committee to Support Tibet filed the complaint in June at the National Court, citing a Spanish legal doctrine allowing prosecution of human rights crimes even if they were committed in another country. The group asked the court to consider charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, state terrorism and torture against former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, ex-Prime Minister Li Peng and five military and security officials in Tibet, some of whom have retired.

The case was rejected in September, but the Committee to Support Tibet appealed and a three-judge panel agreed to study the complaint _ which the group said was the first ever filed against China over Tibet. "It's an important first step to bring justice to one of the biggest injustices committed in this planet," committee coordinator Alan Cantos said. "In 50 years nobody has talked about these crimes. It's also a relief and consolation for the victims and their relatives."

The complaint says more than a million Tibetans have been killed or gone missing since China occupied Tibet with military force in 1951. It also includes testimony from Tibetans who escaped the region after spending more than 40 years in prison, the human rights group said.

The 21-page ruling said that, according to documents included with the complaint, the allegations "show signs of crimes of genocide which ought to be investigated." The court also said it based its ruling on a decision in September by Spain's Constitutional Court _ the country's highest tribunal _ that allows lower courts to probe genocide crimes even if there were no Spaniards among the alleged victims. Although that ruling in September only referred to killings and disappearances in Guatemala, it was widely seen as applying to other current or future Spanish probes of genocide committed in other regions of the world, whatever the nationality of the victims.

Spain's National Court embraced the so-called principle of universal jurisdiction in 1998, although then the doctrine was more ambiguous and understood as applying to cases with Spanish victims. Spain says crimes against humanity and other grave offenses, such as terrorism, can be prosecuted here even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere, so long as no charges are pending against defendants in their country of origin.

Judge Baltasar Garzon used the principle in 1998 to have former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet arrested while visiting London as a first step toward trying him in Madrid on charges of genocide and other crimes. In the end, Britain declined to extradite the ex-despot on grounds of poor health. Last year the principle was invoked again as Spain put a former Argentine naval officer, Adolfo Scilingo, on trial in Madrid for his alleged role in that country's "dirty war" against leftist dissent from 1976-83. Scilingo was convicted and sentenced to 640 years in jail.

The Committee to Support Tibet said it was seeking charges against China's former president and premier _ rather than the current ones _ to avoid arguments over whether the latter might enjoy immunity because they are still in power. The other five defendants are lower-ranking.

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