The government’s bid to diminish the reach of universal justice will be debated Tuesday in Congress, but it comes too late to prevent a potentially explosive decree by High Court Ismael Moreno. On Monday evening, the magistrate asked Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for the detention of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, ex-premier Li Peng and three other high-ranking former members of the Chinese Communist Party (PCCh) over accusations of genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.
The decision was taken by the High Court’s criminal division and the order passed to Moreno, who stressed that he was merely acting on the decree from a higher authority. The lawsuit against the former PCCh officials was launched in 2008 by the Spanish NGO Comité de Apoyo al Tibet (Committee of Support for Tibet) and a Tibetan Lama of Spanish nationality.
“Jiang exercised supervisory authority over the people who directly committed abuses, which makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet,” Moreno wrote in the order, citing lawyers for the plaintiffs.
The detention request calling for the “preventive custody, in open regime, unconditional and without bail” of Zemin, Peng, Quio Shi, the former security chief, Chen Kuiyuan, Communist Party secretary in Tibet between 1992 and 2001 and Peng Peiyun, the minister for family planning in the 1908s, drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing, which has been pressurizing the Spanish government to shelve the case. Zemin was president from 1993 to 2003 and Peng prime minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Expressing its “extreme dissatisfaction” with the decision, China’s Foreign Ministry warned Spain that economic reprisals might be forthcoming. “Whether or not this issue can be appropriately dealt with is related to the healthy development of ties,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “We hope the Spanish government can distinguish right from wrong.”
Chunying added that attempts to smear China using the cases such as this under the principle of universal jurisdiction would not prosper. Spanish judges have been pioneers of the idea; Judge Baltasar Garzón applied universal justice in the 1998 arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.
In the lawsuit against the PCCh officials, Jiang Zemin is accused of having knowledge of torture, summary executions and “forced family planning policies that included widespread abortion and forced sterilizations” against the Tibetan people. China invaded the region in 1950 in what it described as a “peaceful liberation.”