Spain’s Human-Rights Dilemma

Spanish MPs want to restrain the country’s prosecuting magistrates from exercising what has seemed like a roving license to prosecute in Spanish courts human-rights violations committed anywhere in the world. But it is also important to uphold the concept of universal jurisdiction that underlies these prosecutions.

NEW YORK – Spanish MPs want to legislate restraints that would prevent a few of the country’s judges from exercising what has seemed like a roving license to prosecute in Spanish courts human-rights violations committed anywhere in the world. In a current case, a Spanish judge is seeking arrest warrants against Jiang Zemin, the former president of China, and Li Peng, a former Chinese prime minister, for alleged crimes committed in Tibet. There is no discernible Spanish connection to the case.

The Spanish MPs have a point: Allowing the country’s prosecuting magistrates to select targets from anywhere in the world, without there being a clear legal nexus to Spain, is an invitation to politicize the process.

But it is also important to preserve the core principle underlying these prosecutions: the concept of universal jurisdiction. Indeed, it is a concept with ancient origins, and it plays a crucial role in the global protection of human rights.

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