Thursday, May 21, 2009

Push in Spain to Limit Reach of the Courts

Judge Baltasar Garzón, left, has opened an inquiry into complaints of torture filed by four former Guantánamo detainees

Spain’s crusading judges could lose their power to investigate human rights violations that occur anywhere in the world after Spanish lawmakers called for restrictions of the judiciary’s reach.

Lawmakers approved a nonbinding proposal late Tuesday urging the Socialist government to change a law — currently the most far-reaching in Europe — that enables investigators to probe alleged human rights crimes regardless of where they are committed or where the defendants live.

It has long seemed out of bounds, to me, that a Spanish judge can reach into another nation's sovereign borders.

Spanish lawyers have gained a reputation for activism in recent years by using the principle of universal jurisdiction to pursue cases against suspected human rights violators overseas, most famously the former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Of course I was glad to see Pinochet nabbed, but it still seemed absurd that a Spanish judge's power reached so far.

However, the Guantánamo case and one filed against Israeli officials this year created a diplomatic headache for the government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and prompted calls for a change in the law.

That is not justice, but politics.

Israel complained in January after the National Court decided to investigate seven current or former Israeli officials over an air attack in Gaza that killed a top Hamas militant in 2002 but also 14 other people, including 9 children.

That seems was anti-Israeli more than anything else.

“The cases brought in Spain are a way of persuading or forcing the courts of others countries to deal with the crimes they are not dealing with at home,” Reed Brody, an international law specialist for Human Rights Watch in Brussels, said by telephone on Wednesday. “For instance, the cases brought in Spain against Americans may help persuade the Obama administration to try the cases where they belong. ”

That judgment assumes it is correct in saying there are cases, and not political convictions. And, more, it assumes, presumes, the speaker has the right to "persuade or force" others to conform to what he judges to be right.

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