A Spanish judge has today informed the Chinese Ministry of Justice of rulings against eight Chinese leaders, including Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Zhang Qingli, in the Spanish High Court. The rulings concern an investigation on crimes against the Tibetan people in connection with the harsh crackdown on dissent in Tibet that has been ongoing from March 2008. The judge has requested authorization from the Chinese ministry to question the defendants in China should they refuse to do so before the Spanish court.

Judge Santiago Pedráz also requested authorization to visit prisons and sites of major protests in Tibet, as well as permission from the Indian government to interview Tibetan witnesses in Dharamsala, base of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile government.

The lawsuit is one of two on Tibet currently underway in the Spanish High Court under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terrorism or war crimes. The lawsuit dealing with the period from 2006, specifically on the last year’s crackdown, was filed by Tibet Support Committee of Spain (CAT) and Fundacion Casa Del Tibet, Barcelona and accepted by the court just days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.

“Given the cordial relations between our two respective countries, I hope that you will respond favorably to my request,” Judge Pedráz wrote to the Chinese authorities, referring to a bilateral justice cooperation agreement signed in 2005, according to a court document obtained and cited by news agency AFP (May 5, 2009). The judge said that if the accusations made in the complaint are proven, they would constitute crimes against humanity under Spanish and international law. “The Tibetan population would appear to be a group that is persecuted by the cited authorities for political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or other motives universally recognised as unacceptable under international law,” he wrote, according to the same AFP report.

In the ruling made public today by the court, Judge Pedráz refers to the need to question the Chinese leaders “for their participation in the crimes against humanity against the Tibetan people that are being investigated in these proceedings.” (Central Court No 1 of the Audiencia Nacional, Criminal preliminary proceedings 242/2008-10, Court Order of the Judge Santiago Pedráz Gómez, Madrid, May 5, 2009). The judge continues by stating that a copy of the lawsuit is enclosed “In order for them to exercise their right to defend themselves according to Spanish criminal law and article 775 for them to designate an address in Spain where they can be notified, while requesting authorization from the Chinese Ministry of Justice for a judiciary commission to go to China to question defendants, as formally accused, with legal assistance should they refuse to do so before this central court.”

Other Chinese officials named in the lawsuit include Politburo member Wang Lequan, Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, who has overseen a series of hardline policies against the Uyghur people, and Li Dezhu, the former Director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, who was instrumental in guiding implementation of the state’s centrally planned economic policies throughout the PRC’s western regions including Tibet. TAR Party boss Zhang Qingli, also named, is known for his virulent statements against the Dalai Lama and repressive implementation of ‘patriotic education’ campaigns in Tibet that have provoked and intensified dissent and instability. The suit against the eight named leaders is an extension to another complaint filed by the Tibet Support Committee in 2006. The earlier lawsuit accuses Chinese leaders, including former President Jiang Zemin and former Prime Minister Li Peng, of torture and crimes against humanity carried out in Tibet during an earlier period.

ICT was among those giving evidence to Judge Pedráz in Spain’s Criminal Court in Madrid over the past two weeks. Copies of five ICT reports were submitted as part of the evidence, including the latest report on the crackdown since protests broke out across Tibet in March 2008 (ICT report, A Great Mountain Burned by Fire: China’s Crackdown in Tibet – March 9, 2009) and ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon’, which focuses on China’s economic and social policies in Tibet (ICT report, Tracking the Steel Dragon).

Jose Elias Esteve Molto, a Professor of International Law at the University of Valencia, and Alan Cantos of the Spanish Tibet Support Committee (CAT), a research scientist in oceanography for more than 15 years, researched the lawsuits. Alan Cantos says: “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. It is not possible to pre-empt an outcome, but in the eventuality of a refusal by the leaders to testify, then any country that has an extradition treaty with Spain can and should arrest them if they are present in that country. This is an arrangement through Interpol, not through the host government.”

Jose Elias Esteve Molto stresses that while Spain has broken new ground in taking on such cases, any country can, and should, do so if enough diligent research based on knowledge of national and international law is carried out. “The excuse sometimes given is that the crime is not fully defined in national law. But international treaties signed by countries in the EU are elsewhere such as the Genocide Convention, the Committee against Torture, the Geneva Convention, or the Statute of Rome, recognize that crimes against human beings transcend national boundaries, and should then be prosecuted through national courts.”

ICT blog on the Madrid lawsuits: In Search of Justice: Testifying on Tibet in Madrid