Popular Party fast-tracks quashing of universal justice

Decision is “a dark day for human rights,” says opposition

The Popular Party (PP) on Thursday employed its parliamentary majority to fast-track the shelving of the principle of universal justice, of which Spain has been a pioneer.

The decision taken by the ruling bloc will bring to an end investigations launched by Spanish magistrates into cases such as alleged genocide in Tibet, the killing of television cameraman José Couso by American forces in Iraq in 2004, US rendition flights that used Spanish airbases as stopovers, alleged human rights abuses perpetrated against the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara by Morocco and a lawsuit against suspected former Nazi concentration camp guards.

In using its majority to limit the powers of Spanish judges to investigate crimes on a global scale, the PP avoided the drawing up of reports by the CGPJ legal watchdog and the State Council advisory body, among other institutions, and prevented the matter being debated in Congress and on the battlefield of public opinion.

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The PP’s hierarchy has admitted that the decision was based largely on diplomatic issues, especially in the sphere of relations with China, an important trade partner that threatened sanctions over the Spanish High Court’s decision to sign off on an Interpol arrest warrant for former President Jiang Zemin, ex-Prime Minister Li Peng and three former top-ranking officials for alleged crimes against humanity in Tibet.

PP congressional spokesman José Miguel Castillo justified the PP’s decision on the basis that the High Court has turned Spain into an international courtroom “without the necessary jurisdiction or economic means.”

All the opposition groups in Congress opposed the decision but the PP prevailed in a vote earlier this month by 179 votes to 163. Many opposition lawmakers have described the measure as a “dark day for human rights.”

“Can you imagine a law that obliged the shelving of the Bárcenas or Urdangarin cases?” asked Catalan Republican Left deputy Joan Tardà.

“The government has demonstrated that we have moved from a parliamentary democracy to a governmental democracy, and from there to a party democracy,” said Gaspar Llamazares of the Plural Left group.