The Spanish Parliament voted yesterday to move ahead with a bill limiting the power of the judiciary to investigate human rights abuses committed outside the country, following pressure from China over two law suits focusing on China’s leaders for their policies in Tibet.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said today: “The result of the vote by the Spanish Parliament following the orders of arrest affecting Chinese leaders by Spain’s independent judiciary only underlines the unprecedented pressure that the Chinese government is imposing on European governments. This is part of an increasing attempt by China to undermine the rules and principles of international law in order to preserve its impunity. The new and very alarming element is that now China, an authoritarian government, is able to directly request, and obtain, changes to the national legislation of a major European democracy such as Spain. The sooner democrats and citizens of the world realize and act to counter these developments, the better it would be for our future.”

On Monday, a day before the Parliamentary debate, Spanish High Court Judge Ismael Moreno issued orders to be conveyed to Interpol for the detention of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin and four other Chinese leaders for their policies on Tibet. (ICT report, Spanish judge orders arrest warrants for Chinese leaders on day before Spanish Parliament vote on legal reform).

Spain has had a leading role in enforcing international justice since universal jurisdiction was adopted into national law in 1985, and intense opposition has been expressed to the actions of Spain’s ruling centre-right People’s Party since the Chinese authorities have sought to close down the Tibet law suits.

The main opposition group, the Socialists, voted against the bill in Parliament in Madrid yesterday, although it also watered down Spain’s universal jurisdiction law when it was in power in 2009.

Alan Cantos, Director of Comite de Apoyo Al Tibet (CAT), said today: “What was voted yesterday was not the new restrictions on the law itself but the go ahead to discuss it at the Congress Justice Commission and Senate. The ruling party got away with it because of their absolute majority, but stood completely alone and none of their traditional party allies voted with them. There was significant criticism, from both the left and right and the promise of appeals against its unconstitutional nature if it is approved from the main socialist opposition and other MPs. Submission to China officially began yesterday. This change in the law will probably be perpetrated but at a very high cost in democratic principles, and also quite possibly votes in coming elections.”

Yesterday’s move in the Spanish Parliament was an approval of a proposal for a reform of the law. The next stage is for the resolution to go to the Senate, which may take one to four months. The judiciary then has to react to the change in the law and will also most likely be presented with a decision of whether or not to cancel the orders of arrest of the Chinese leaders on their policies in Tibet.