Last month a Spanish Court had indicted China’s former President, Hu Jintao, on charges of genocide against the Tibetan people. This astounding breakthrough was followed a few weeks later by the news that judges had ordered arrest warrants to be issued against Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin and four other former Chinese leaders.
China is furious about this lawsuit, which has been brought by Comité de Apoyo al Tíbet, a member Group of the International Tibet Network. A senior Party Official threatened; “This is ridiculous. Anyone thinking in this way brings humiliation to himself and if courts of any country accept the accusation, they are bringing disgrace to themselves as well. Pursuing a lawsuit against China shows nothing but the weakening of some countries nowadays….. I would like to use a cliché of Chinese people, “Come if you are bold enough.”
Now questions are arising as to whether Spain is “bold enough”. The celebrated independence of the Spanish judiciary – which recognises “universal jurisdiction”, a doctrine part of international law that allows grave crimes like genocide and torture to be prosecuted anywhere – is under threat. Spanish newspaper El Pais has reported that the Spanish government, under pressure from China, is proposing urgent legal changes that would allow it to invoke reasons of “general interest” in order to prevent judges from investigating crimes of genocide committed abroad.
This legal process should be based on the strength of evidence and a commitment to serving justice, not the political influence of the perpetrator. It is an affront to Spain’s judicial sovereignty, to the victims, and to universal principles of human rights that the Spanish government is considering surrendering to Beijing’s political pressure.