About the reform of Universal Jurisdiction in the Spanish Courts

About the reform of Universal Jurisdiction in the Spanish Courts

Statement about the reform of Universal Jurisdiction in the Spanish Courts


After the legislative proposal that is being processed in the Spanish Cortes Generales, presented by the Popular Parliamentary Group and which wants to reform the universal jurisdiction of the Spanish Courts as provided for in article 23 of the Organic Law of the Judicial Branch; we would like to express:

  1. Our grave concern regarding this reform, which may mean the virtual disappearance of universal jurisdiction, assumed by the Spanish State in 1985 and which had become an international role model regarding prevention and sanctioning of crimes against humanity.
  1. This reform will constitute a serious step back regarding human rights and will allow the impunity of these crimes. The legal amendment may mean the end of prosecution of the greatest part of the cases currently investigated by the Spanish judiciary with regard to serious crimes committed in other countries such as the genocide in Tiber, in Rwanda (after the assassination of nine Spanish citizens) or in Guatemala, the assassinations of Spanish Jesuits in the Central American University (CAU) in El Salvador; the death of the journalist José Couso in Iraq, the CIA flights case, cases of disappearance of people in the Sahara, etc.
  1. In 1999 the PSOE Government sponsored a drastic limitation of the Spanish universal jurisdiction. Since then, it can only be activated when the presumed responsible people are Spanish or live in Spain, or when there are Spanish victims or the incidents are related with Spain. In spite of this limitation, the Spanish National High Court (AudienciaNacional) has continued with some of these processes, taking into account the existence of Spanish victims or a relation of the incidents with Spain.
  1. The reform proposal canalized by the unbelievable way of Popular Group’s legislative proposal instead of project of the Government (channel that averts the previous reports to different institutions of the State), will leave universal jurisdiction practically devoid of content. In most cases, it will only be possible to act when the alleged responsible individual is Spanish (situation that is not comprehended in the concept of universal justice), or, if the person is a foreigner, only if the person lives in Spain or if he or she is in Spain (very unlikely situation) and his or her extradition to third countries has been rejected. If none of these happen, no action will be taken, not even in the case when victims are Spanish (except in the case of terrorism, drug trafficking, plane highjacking, maritime piracy or human trafficking). The result will be the archive of the majority of on-going cases for crimes against humanity (as its immediate entry into force has been expected for every on-going process), and the more than likely impunity of these crimes or other future crimes.
  1. The circumstances surrounding this reform (Chinese government pressures after the imputation of some of their ex leaders responsible of the Tibet genocide) make us think that the Government has wanted to prioritize the defense of the geostrategic and economic Spanish interests, sacrificing the principle of universal justice and the rights of the victims. The elimination of this principle cannot be justified on the basis of the defense of national interests, as it is the fruit of a necessary ethical and political commitment with the defense of greater goods and with the protection of human rights against the most serious aggressions. Moreover, the fact that this jurisdiction means an exceedance cannot be confirmed, as the Spanish current laws and jurisprudence organize universal jurisdiction as being strictly subsidiary, that is, it is not activated if an international court or the State where the crimes have been committed, or from where the responsible individuals come from (as they are obliged) to investigate and judge these crimes.

Therefore, the General Commission of Justice and Peace of Spain condemns the legislative reform that regulates universal jurisdiction, stepping back in the international obligations; but most importantly, offering impunity to those responsible of international crimes and barring access to victims to Spanish justice.

 Download: Universal jurisdiction.pdf

General Commission for Justice and Peace

Madrid, 27th February 2014