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Spain to limit judges’ jurisdiction; includes probe against Israelis

The Jerusalem Post

20 May 2009

Spain’s congress on Tuesday reportedly passed a resolution to limit the jurisdiction of investigative judges.

The move follows pressure from foreign governments such as the US, China and Israel, which has strongly criticized Judge Fernando Andreu’s ongoing investigation into the 2002 assassination of Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh in Gaza, in which 14 others were also killed.

The resolution confines judges to cases with a clear Spanish connection and excludes them from probing investigations already under way in the country that allegedly committed the crime, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The move effectively reins in Spain’s investigative judges from dealing with crimes against humanity allegedly committed around the world. The investigating judges of Spain’s National Court have been employing the so-called principle of universal jurisdiction – which holds that for grave crimes such as genocide, terrorism or torture, suspects can be prosecuted in the country even if the alleged offenses were committed elsewhere – to 13 cases involving events that took place in other countries, from Rwanda to Iraq.

Under the new resolution, however, cases taken up by the judges would now have to involve a Spanish citizen or the accused would have to be on Spanish soil, the WSJ reported. The Spanish government will now introduce legislation, which the major parties in Congress have agreed to back, according to the report. It wasn’t clear whether the changes would apply to existing cases or only to future ones.

At the beginning of the month, Judge Andreu of Spain’s National Court decided to continue the investigation of Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and five other former top security officials for their part in the Shehadeh assassination, despite Spanish prosecutors’ attempts to dissuade him from doing so on the grounds that Israel was still investigating the attack. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said the Shehadeh case “makes a mockery out of international law.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.