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PCHR and Spanish civil society organize conferences in Madrid In defense of universal jurisdiction

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

21 June 2009

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), in cooperation with Spanish civil society partners and national and international human rights organizations, are organizing two events in Madrid, Spain, on 22 and 24 June 2009. The events will take place in the Spanish Cultural Centre and the Spanish Congress.

These events are being organized in opposition to a proposed amendment to Spain’s universal jurisdiction legislation. On 19 May 2009, the Spanish Parliament requested that the government draft legislation limiting the scope of Spain’s universal jurisdiction legislation, this amendment will be presented to the Lower House on 26 June. Spain has long been an advocate of universal jurisdiction; it is widely believed that the current amendments are introduced consequent to concerted political pressure on behalf of States intent on shielding alleged war criminals from justice.

PCHR, and Spanish and international civil society and human rights organizations, are united in opposition to the amendment. Universal jurisdiction is an essential component in the international legal order. Crucially, it is also of critical importance in the fight against impunity. International law grants explicit protection to civilian populations. However, in order for the law to be relevant – to be capable of protecting civilians – it must be enforced. As long as States and individuals are allowed to act with impunity, they will continue to violate international law: innocent civilians will continue to suffer the horrific consequences.

PCHR wish to emphasize that universal jurisdiction is not merely a Palestinian issue. It is a legal mechanism intended to ensure that all those responsible for international crimes – which include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture – are brought to justice. Universal jurisdiction is only enacted when States with a more traditional jurisdictional nexus to the crime (related, inter alia, to the place of commission, or the perpetrator’s nationality) prove unwilling or unable to genuinely investigate and prosecute: when they shield those accused of international crimes from justice.

In the interests of victims throughout the world, and all those who continue to suffer at the hands of oppressive regimes, universal jurisdiction must be pursued and strengthened. Universal jurisdiction is a fundamental component in upholding the rule of law. It is a key tool in the fight for universal justice, whereby the protections of international law may be extended to all individuals without discrimination, and victims’ rights ensured through the legal punishment of guilty parties.

PCHR’s Director, Mr. Raji Sourani, was due to present key-note speeches in Madrid. However, owing to the illegal siege of the Gaza Strip – a form of collective punishment which has now been in place for 24 continuous months – he has been denied permission to travel.

On 19 May 2009, the Spanish Parliament passed a resolution requesting that the government limit the scope of Spain’s universal jurisdiction legislation. The proposal calls for the existing legislation to be modified so that cases may only be pursued if they involve Spanish victims or if the accused are present on Spanish soil. The government’s amendment will be presented to Parliament on 26 June. If passed, the legislation will then be passed to the Upper House, before being returned to the Lower House for final approval.

This move represents a regression for Spain, a country that has long acknowledged the fundamental importance of universal jurisdiction. In recent years, a number of high profile universal jurisdiction cases have been pursued in Spanish courts, including Pinochet, Scilingo, and Guatemalan Generals. The Spanish Audencia Nacional (National Court) is currently investigating a case brought by PCHR and Spanish partners in relation to the al-Daraj attack of 2002. This war crime resulted in the deaths of 16 Palestinians, including 14 civilians. Approximately 150 people were injured.

On 4 May 2009, Judge Fernando Andreu of the Spanish Audencia Nacional (National Court) announced his decision to continue the investigation into the events surrounding the al-Daraj attack. The Spanish Court explicitly rejected the arguments of the Spanish Prosecutor and the State of Israel, claiming that Israel had adequately investigated the crime. The judge has confirmed that this position is incorrect, and contrary to the rule of law.
The victims and their legal team have placed their trust in the criminal justice system, believing that this is the only mechanism whereby accountability can be pursued and impunity combated. This trust must not be denied on the basis of political pressure. Politics cannot be placed above the rights of individuals.

On 22 June a roundtable discussion will be held in the Circulo de Bellas Artes room of the Valle Incan. On 24 June an information and advocacy conference will be held in Spanish congress. Both events are themed “In Defense of Universal Jurisdiction.” The events, which will be accompanied by press conferences, will be attended by members of Spanish civil society, Spanish parliamentarians and judges, and representatives of national and international human rights organizations.

PCHR stress that politics cannot be allowed to prevail over the rule of law. Victims’ rights to an effective judicial remedy must be upheld, and those accused of international crimes must be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the demands of international law. The fight against impunity cannot be lost.

For further information, please see the universal jurisdiction section of PCHR’s website: www.pchrgaza.org.