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Bill to limit Spanish judiciary passes

Associated Press / June 26, 2009
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MADRID - Spanish legislators voted yesterday to change a law that let judges indict Osama bin Laden and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, narrowing its scope to cases with a clear link to this country and yielding to criticism that Spain should not act like a global cop.

The reform will not be retroactive, so the dozen or so cases now being investigated at the National Court will continue, the Justice Ministry said. These include investigations of alleged Chinese abuses in Tibet, an Israeli air force bombing in Gaza that killed 14 civilians, and alleged torture at the US prison for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay.

Spain’s two main parties joined forces to amend the law in a rare show of unity. The measure passed in the lower house of Parliament and is expected to pass in the Senate.

Spanish judges have used the so-called doctrine of universal justice to prosecute crimes such as torture, terrorism, and genocide with no connection to Spain, prompting protest from countries such as Israel and China.

New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the vote, saying Spain had been a model in this field of law and now “many victims of serious human rights violations will lose one of the few places they could turn in search of redress.’’

“It is deplorable for the Spanish government to capitulate to diplomatic pressure,’’ said its spokesman, Reed Brody.

The International Criminal Court is the only global war-crimes tribunal, but it can only prosecute crimes committed after its founding treaty, known as the Rome Statute, came into force in 2002 - which means it could not prosecute bin Laden or Pinochet.

Also, the ICC’s reach is limited. It can only launch investigations in countries that have ratified the Rome Statute or where it is ordered to by the UN Security Council.

The United States has not ratified the statute.