The International Campaign for Tibet has testified in Spain’s National Court to the direct responsibility of senior Communist Party leaders for policies in Tibet as part of a ground-breaking lawsuit under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture and terror perpetrated by states. The case brings Spanish lawyers and Tibet activists closer to the objective of arrest warrants being served to several Chinese leaders for policies on Tibet.

The same expert Spanish team is now challenging the shelving of a second lawsuit on Tibet after the Spanish government changed the law following direct complaints from China. Alan Cantos, of the Tibet Support Committee in Spain (Comite de Apoyo Al Tibet), told ICT: “After losing our appeal to the Supreme Court we are now appealing to Spain´s Constitutional Court arguing the violation of fundamental rights in the whole process and calling for the re-opening of the case.” Lawyers for the Tibet Support Committee have now submitted a document of more than 60 pages to the court giving detailed legal objections to the shelving of the case. ICT had also testified in this case, together with Tibetan witnesses. (ICT blog, In Search of Justice: Testifying on Tibet in Madrid).

ICT’s report, “The chain of command in the People’s Republic of China and the direct responsibility of Chinese leaders in the international crimes committed in Tibet”, was presented to Audiencia Nacional’s court Nº 2 on October 26, and Kate Saunders, ICT’s Communications Director, was summoned by the court to ratify the report to one of Spain’s most senior judges, Judge Ismael Moreno, on December 28 (2012). Judge Moreno also accepted additional documents from ICT, including a new report about self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy entitled ‘Storm in the Grasslands’ (ICT report, Storm in the Grasslands: Self-Immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy).

José Elías Esteve Moltó, main research lawyer and author of both cases, and Alan Cantos from Comite de Apoyo Al Tibet (CAT) in Madrid, Spain’s Tibet Support Committee, which has pioneered the two Tibet lawsuits, said: “We continue to seek universal justice as the only method of obtaining criminal responsibility of the maximum leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, and this report is one more step in this direction.”

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “It is a privilege for ICT to have the opportunity via these legal mechanisms to seek accountability at the highest levels in China for the Communist Party leadership’s failed policies in Tibet. Our report outlined details of the chain of command for specific policies in Tibet, showing how the functions of the Communist Party override those of the Chinese state at all levels. At the request of the lawyers, we named specific leaders including Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin and demonstrated their connections to Tibet and specific responsibilities.”

The second lawsuit admitted by Court Room Nº 1 on August 5, 2008 was shelved after the Chinese government rejected a judicial request for Chinese officials to testify in court in Madrid and demanded that the Spanish government block the investigation in the Spanish High Court on crimes against the Tibetan people, calling it a “false lawsuit.” (ICT report, China threatens Spain over Tibet lawsuits; Judge announces extension of cases to cover Nangpa shooting). A number of judges had objected to the decision to shelve the case.

The two Tibet lawsuits are the result of years of dedication and expertise by José Elías Esteve Moltó, a Professor of International Law at the University of Valencia, and Alan Cantos of the Spanish Tibet Support Committee. Alan Cantos explained: “We wanted to explore the many mechanisms for making the Chinese leadership accountable and seeking justice for the Tibetan people that exist through the mechanisms of international law. Accountability as the Dalai Lama has expressed many times is important at all levels in the Tibetan issue. And in our experience in numerous transitional and traumatic circumstances of states, including Spain, a necessity for construction or re-construction of genuine democracy.”

Cases of universal jurisdiction have been pursued in Spain ever since a group of progressive Spanish lawyers put together a lawsuit against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who presided over a 17-year reign of terror and ordered foreign assassinations. Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1998 was the result of a year-long struggle by Madrid judge Baltasar Garzón to bring Pinochet to account for the brutality that followed his overthrow of the government of Salvador Allende. Pinochet, who died in 2006, was subsequently released by the UK “on humanitarian grounds” as a last resort political decision and allowed to travel back to Chile, but British law had by then agreed to his extradition to face trial in Spain and the precedent had been set. It was the first time that several European judges applied the principle of universal jurisdiction, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former head of states, despite local amnesty laws.

ICT will report further on the Spanish lawsuits including on the responses to the submission of the latest report.