One of the countries at the forefront of pursuing international human rights cases outside its jurisdiction has had it wings clipped following pressure from China.
Last month Spain voted to curb powers of universal jurisdiction, which allows courts to prosecute individuals outside their territory for crimes against humanity.
The move followed protests from China after ex-President Hu Jintao was indicted by Spain at the end of last year for alleged crimes against the Tibetan people.
Under the reforms – expected to be passed by the Spanish upper house (pictured) next month – Spanish judges will be able to investigate crimes against humanity only if the suspect is residing in Spain and their victims are Spanish.
The reforms mean cases such as the indictment of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet by a Spanish magistrate in 1998 would no longer be made.
Alan Cantos, director of Comité de Apoyo al Tibet, the main plaintiff in the Tibet case, said it is crucial other European countries do not follow the same route as Spain. ‘The whole exercise has been a complete farce, Spain should not submit to it so obligingly,’ he said.
Cantos said the law is vital in upholding human rights, despite few perpetrators having been brought to trial.
‘Justice is not just about putting people in jail, it’s about truth, accountability and victim rights,’ he said.
Cantos called on the UK legal profession to write to Spanish opposition MPs to appeal the constitutionality of the reforms, and to consider bringing a case against China in the UK.
Iona Liddell, executive director of the Tibet Justice Center, said: ‘The ideal of universal jurisdiction is that it is universal in nature, so people should not feel this is just a Spanish issue. It’s something important for all European countries. Lawyers in the UK can show solidarity by taking action now for the situation in Spain and [demonstrating] how states in Europe react to China on an issue as important as this.’