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universal justice

Judge refuses to shelve Guantanamo and Western Sahara torture probes

Magistrate Pablo Ruz argues that Spain’s international commitments come before legal reforms

High Court Judge Pablo Ruz has decided to continue an investigation into alleged war crimes at the US military base in Guantánamo Bay, despite recent legal reforms in Spain that curtail the principle of universal justice.

In a written statement made public on Tuesday, the examining judge renewed his request for information from the US government regarding the state of the investigation in that country regarding Abdul Latif Al Banna, Omar Deghayes, Hamed Abderrahman, and Ahmed and Lahcen Ikassrien, who all spent time imprisoned in Guantánamo.

These individuals were handed over to Spanish authorities and await “penal responsibilities still pending in our country’s justice system.” In the meantime, Ruz is investigating whether the men endured “physical or psychological suffering while in US custody from the moment of their detention in various countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan or Gambia) until their transfer to the naval base of Guantánamo (Cuba) [...] in the context of the US military intervention in Afghanistan beginning in October 2001.”

The judge takes into account the new situation in Spain following the fast-track reform of universal jurisdiction, which used to allow Spanish courts to try foreigners for crimes committed abroad. This power has recently been cut back by the Popular Party (PP) government, in reaction to China’s anger over a Spanish investigation into the Tibetan genocide.

Ruz sees “an evident collision” between domestic law and Spain’s international commitments

Ruz concludes that according to the new law, torture and war crimes cannot be pursued in this case because the target of the procedure is not a Spaniard or a resident of Spain. But, argues the magistrate, the international treaties ratified by Spain show “an evident collision” between domestic law and Spain’s international commitments. Ruz has invoked the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, which force signatory countries to pursue crimes.

The reform of universal justice also stipulates that crimes cannot be tried if they are already being investigated by an international court or by the country where they were committed. This is why Ruz is insisting on securing information from US authorities regarding the status of the investigation there.

But this is not the only international case that Judge Ruz is refusing to give up on.

The High Court magistrate is also looking into claims of genocide against several members of the Moroccan military in connection with Western Sahara, a disputed territory that Morocco claims as its own.

In this case, Ruz alleges that he has jurisdiction over the case because the alleged crimes were committed when Western Sahara was still a Spanish colony, specifically between November 1975 and February 1976, and thus must be considered Spanish territory for legal purposes.

Ruz also feels he has the power to keep open an investigation into genocide after the Sahrawi Association for the Defense of Human Rights filed a complaint against several leaders of the Polisario Front, a nationalist movement seeking independence for the territory.