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Spain lower house votes to limit reach of universal jurisdiction statute

[JURIST] The Spanish Congress of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] voted 341-2 [press release, in Spanish] Thursday to limit use of the country's universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] statute to those offenses committed by or against Spaniards, or where the perpetrators are in Spain. The nearly unanimous vote enjoyed support from the opposition Popular Party (PP) as well as the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) [party websites, in Spanish], echoing a non-binding resolution [JURIST report] passed by the Congress in May. Similarly broad support is expected when the measure comes before the Senate. If passed by the Senate, the new law would only apply prospectively, allowing cases currently being heard under universal jurisdiction to proceed, including investigations of Israeli actions in Gaza in 2002, detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay and allegations of war crimes and genocide in Rwanda, Tibet, Guatemala, and China [JURIST reports]

Spain's current statute allows the exercise of universal jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism and war crimes if the case is not subject to the legal system of the country involved, regardless of its connection to Spain. Earlier this month, human rights groups urged [JURIST report] the Spanish government to continue the broad exercise of universal jurisdiction, while some countries, including Israel [Haaretz report], have argued [JURIST report] for changes to the practice. Universal jurisdiction has been used by prominent Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon [JURIST news archive] to bring several high-profile cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].

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