[JURIST] Human rights groups on Tuesday called for the Spanish government to continue prosecuting those who violate international law under the principle of universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder], sending a manifesto [text, PDF, in Spanish] to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero [official profile, in Spanish]. The call from more than 100 human rights groups comes less than two weeks after the Spanish Congress of Deputies passed a non-binding resolution [JURIST report] designed to limit the scope of Spain's universal jurisdiction statute. In a statement [text] released last week, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] compared the possibility of reduced jurisdictional scope to what occurred in Belgium in 2003 [HRW report] and said that such a reduction:
would confirm a growing sentiment – fueled by the dismissal of cases in France and Germany against U.S. officials accused of crimes against detainees, and the International Criminal Court’s focus thus far on Africa – that international justice targets only the leaders of weak states while officials of powerful countries have the muscle to prevent accountability.
Spanish Human Rights Association (FIDH) [advocacy website, in Spanish] president Souhayr Belhassen has called the move [press release, PDF, in Spanish] "a step backwards in the fight against impunity for the gravest crimes."
Universal jurisdiction gives Spain jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism and war crimes if the case is not subject to the legal system of the country involved. Earlier this month, a Spanish judge said that he would ask the US [JURIST report] about possible plans to prosecute six former US government lawyers for their alleged contributions to acts of torture at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] before deciding whether to proceed with his own investigation. The judge had taken the case over [JURIST report] from Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon, who opened an additional investigation [JURIST report] into alleged torture in Guantanamo based on complaints by four former detainees. Garzon, currently under investigation [JURIST report] for alleged judicial abuses in his investigations [JURIST report] into Civil War-era crimes committed by the regime of General Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder], is famed for his high-profile investigations of terrorism and human rights abuses including cases against Osama bin Laden and former Latin American dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].