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UNIVERSAL JUSTICE

Rajoy government bids to halt Tibet case against Chinese officials

Spain plans to reduce judiciary’s powers in universal justice cases after Beijing warned of damaged relations

In an effort to head off a diplomatic crisis, the Popular Party (PP) government is planning to limit the Spanish judiciary's powers to investigate human rights crimes in other countries, Justice Ministry sources said.

Proposed changes to the law that outlines the judiciary's jurisdiction come after the High Court last month issued arrest warrants for five top Chinese officials, including China's former president Jiang Zemin and former prime minister Li Peng, alleging they were responsible for "genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and terrorism" against Tibetans in the 1980s and 1990s. It based its prosecution on the doctrine of universal justice.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is highly concerned about the High Court's arrest warrants and how they could damage Spanish-Chinese relations after Beijing issued a warning to this effect, sources said. Rajoy had planned on visiting China in September but the trip was suddenly called off.

Changes to the Organic Act of the Judicial Power will be presented in January. Specifically, modifications will be made to article 23, which gives Spanish courts jurisdiction to investigate human rights crimes when "the alleged offenders are in Spain or when there are victims that have connections or links that are relative to Spain," and have not been tried in other countries for the same crimes. This same clause was changed in 2009 under pressure from the Israeli government when the High Court tried to indict Israel's former defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, for killings that took place in Gaza seven years earlier.

Rajoy fears that China might adopt retaliatory measures against Spain as it did against Norway when dissident Liu Xiaobo was given the Nobel Peace prize.

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