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PCHR Clarify Confusion Regarding Spanish Parliament Proposal Concerning Universal Jurisdiction Legislation

Ref: 66/2009

Date: 21 May 2009

Time: 12:00 GMT


PCHR Clarify Confusion Regarding Spanish Parliament Proposal Concerning Universal Jurisdiction Legislation

On 19 May, 2009, the Spanish parliament passed a resolution calling on the government to limit Spain’s universal jurisdiction mechanisms. The proposal called for the existing legislation to be modified so that cases may only be pursued if they involve Spanish victims or if the accused is present on Spanish soil.

In light of the confusion surrounding this proposal, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) whish to clarify certain issues.

The existing law, which grants Spanish courts jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, has not been modified. The Spanish parliament has agreed to request the government to draft new legislation aimed at amending the existing law. This legislation will have to be drafted, and then accepted by the parliament. Further, it must be found to be compliant with the Spanish constitution and Spain’s international legal obligations.

Current universal jurisdiction cases, which include PCHR’s case against seven senior Israeli officials in relation to the June 2002 Al-Daraj attack in Gaza, currently remain unaffected. However, if the law is changed, Spanish judges will no longer have the jurisdiction necessary to continue their investigations; the victims will be denied judicial remedy.

PCHR wish to emphasize that universal jurisdiction is not merely a Palestinian issue. It is an essential legal tool – a mechanism of last resort – used when national courts are genuinely unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute those accused of international crimes. As such, it provides a means of judicial remedy to victims throughout the world who suffer at the hands of oppressive regimes. Universal jurisdiction is an essential component in upholding the rule of law. It is a first step on the road towards universal justice, whereby victims’ rights may be ensured through the legal punishment of guilty parties. Victims’ rights to an effective judicial remedy form a core component of international human rights law, and are codified in article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

All available options will be considered in an effort to ensure that Spain does not succumb to political pressure, and continues to uphold international justice.

PCHR call on lawyers, human rights organizations, civil society, and all concerned parties, to combat any proposed amendment to the law, and to fight to ensure that the interests of justice, and the rights of victims, are upheld. The constitutionality of any proposed amendment to the law will be challenged.

In 2005, following the issuance of an arrest warrant for Israeli Major General Doron Almog, former Prime Minister Tony Blair declared Britain’s intention to modify the United Kingdom’s laws on universal jurisdiction. Four years later, this amendment has not come to pass. Last week, British Justice Secretary Jack Straw embraced the concept of universal jurisdiction, when he noted that he was considering proposing changes to UK law that would allow courts in Britain to try cases where genocide had allegedly been committed elsewhere in the world.

The fight for justice will be continued. PCHR affirm their intention to continue to pursue all available legal mechanisms to ensure that victims’ rights are protected and the rule of law upheld. The fight against impunity cannot be lost.

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