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Spain drops role of "human rights cop of the world"

Spain puts an end to universal jurisdiction: the Spanish parliament has approved a bill that narrows the role of the country's judges in prosecuting crimes committed in other countries.

Statue of the goddess justitita

Spain curtails jurisdiction on human rights cases

Judges in Spain will only be able to investigate alleged human rights abuses abroad if they involve Spanish citizens or if the suspects are in Spain. Under the current law of universal jurisdiction, the Spanish judiciary was allowed to prosecute genocide, torture and war crimes committed in other countries even if there was no link to Spain.

Spain's National Court is currently investigating several human rights cases, in places as far flung as Latin America, Rwanda, Tibet, Burma and the notorious US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the ongoing cases will be affected by the changes.

The arrest in London in 1998 of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet at the initiative of Spain's National Court judge Baltasar Garzon grabbed headlines all over the world. The investigating judge also took up proceedings against the former military junta in Argentina.

Activists stress Spain’s role in defending human rights

Human rights activists argue that Spanish judges play an important role in human rights accountability. But the president of the country’s highest court, Carlos Divar, had repeatedly warned that Spain could not become "the human rights cop of the world."

The new law was drafted as pressure increased on the Spanish government to finally restrict the judges' scope for investigating human rights cases in other countries. Now that its final version was approved with an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament, the new law can enter into force.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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