Spain’s Jurisidictional Reduction

Spanish judge issues arrest warrants for China’s former President and Prime Minister

In the struggle to combat and prosecute the individuals that violate human rights, the victims of such abuse need every avenue to be available for the possibility for justice. Political and economic factors sometimes circumvent the process for justice and there is an example of that going on today in Spain.

Spain has been operating under a bold “universal jurisdiction” that has been created through Spanish law. In 1985, Spain passed the “Organic Law” which defined the jurisdiction of Spanish Courts in criminal cases.  The new law gave Spanish courts jurisdiction over cases related to a particular type of international crimes, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or where the crime took place. The universal jurisdiction set out that if a crime is offensive to the international community, the perpetrators can be tried in any national court. The crimes include terrorism, genocide, and piracy.

The idea of course is largely aspirational and many might say what gives Spain the brazen right. International treaties, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, permit and, in some cases, require nations to prosecute perpetrators of  human rights abuses even if those nations have no connection to the crimes. In 1996, the bold step by the Spanish National Court was taken in investigating the human rights violations in Argentina’s “Dirty War” and Chile’s military rule during the 1970s’ and into the 1980s’. There was a case lodged against the former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet. While he was visiting England, he was arrested and extradited to Spain.

There are currently some cases of human rights abuses in the Spanish National Court. Just recently, the Court ordered international warrants on China’s former President Jiang Zemin and former Prime Minister Li Peng for alleged human rights abuses in Tibet. The issue in Tibet, a region in Western China, has been separatist movements and the Chinese government’s crackdown on those movements.

The Chinese government was very upset about the news coming from the Spanish National Court has turned on diplomatic pressure to stop the prosecution. To be fair, China wouldn’t be the first to put on diplomatic pressure to circumvent judicial inquiries coming from this Court. Spain is the one of the European countries hit hard in the sovereign debt crisis. China is an emerging market for Spain and is one of the largest trade partners with the EU, so Spain tries not to upset relations with China. However, it seems that the Court has disregarded to tread lightly.

Recently, the Spanish Parliament will debate and most people say approve a bill that will effectively reduce the national law that gave the Spanish National Court the ability to pursue human rights cases.  This would lead to the dismissal of the case against China and hamper the Courts ability to try current and future cases.

Do you agree with the Spanish Parliament in closing the scope for the Spanish National Court? Or should the Spanish National Court be allowed to keep its jurisdiction to help combat human rights abuses even though it will ruffle political feathers? How do the actions and ideas of the Spanish National Court effect international law?


The Center for Justice and Accountability

New York Times

Audiencia Nacional (Spanish National Court)

Image: The News Chronicle

One comment

  1. After reading some of the human rights cases investigated by the Spanish National Court, I definitely do not agree with the Spanish Parliament in reducing the scope of the national law. I just simply cannot see the purpose for why the Spanish Parliament would do this. If I may quote you, it seems that the “universal jurisdiction” of the Spanish National Court has served a great purpose by facilitating the fight to stop human rights violations.
    It seems that the actions of the Spanish National Court in respect to human rights violations complies with international law. You stated that the Geneva Convention permits and, in some cases, requires nations to prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses even if those nations have no connection to the crimes. The Spanish National Court should maintain their jurisdiction to help combat human rights abuses at the international level. In my opinion, the International Courts should take the help of the Spanish National Court with open arms.

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