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Spain judge launches probe into Iraq refugee killings

Spanish National Court judge Fernando Andreu [JURIST news archive] on Tuesday issued a writ to pursue an investigation against Iraqi Lieutenant General Abdol Hossein Al Shemmari for allegedly ordering a July 2009 strike against Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf in which 11 unarmed civilians were killed, 36 were detained and approximately 500 were injured. Most of the citizens of the camp are members of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK) [advocacy website], the largest Iranian opposition organization, whose members are considered protected persons under the Geneva Conventions. Although Spain has no discernible involvement in the situation, Andreu cited section 146 of the Geneva Conventions [text] as the basis for his investigation. The probe will continue through the obligation of Geneva signatories to prosecute violations to the Geneva Conventions, despite Spain's October 2009 passage of a law limiting its use [JURIST report] of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to cases involving Spanish citizens. The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] claims to have launched an investigation into the situation and criticized the Spanish courts for interfering with its authority [El Pais report, in Spanish], but Andreu found this investigation "insufficient." Al Shemmari's summons is for March 8 in Madrid, but, as active duty military personnel, he may be unable to appear. If he does not appear, proceedings with continue without him.

Before the law was changed in October 2009, Spain allowed the exercise of universal jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism and war crimes if the case was not subject to the legal system of the country involved, regardless of its connection to Spain. In June 2009, human rights groups urged [JURIST report] the Spanish government to continue the broad exercise of universal jurisdiction, while some countries, including Israel [Haaretz report], 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]. Investigations have also proceeded against 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].

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