A prior post reviewed the approval on February 11, 2014, by Spain’s Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados), the lower house of the country’s bicameral legislature (los Cortes Generales), of an amendment of its statute on universal jurisdiction. Last week Spain’s Senate also approved that amendment, which then became law.
That post also predicted that the amendment would cause 12 pending cases under that statute to be dismissed. One of those 12 cases was an investigation of the conduct of three U.S. military personnel in the 2003 death of a Spanish journalist, Jose Couso, in Iraq.
On March 17th, however, the Spanish High Court refused to dismiss that case according to reports in El Pais and the Wall Street Journal. Judge Santiago Pedraz Gómez decided to disregard the new amended law because, he said, it contradicts Spain’s obligations under the 1949 Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The judge stated that the Geneva Convention obliges Spain to “prosecute the crime (search for people and make them appear) regardless of the perpetrators’ nationalities and wherever they may be.” Therefore, the court’s decision said,“The judge must refrain from applying this new rule. The rule of law requires the existence of independent bodies to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, by impartially applying standards that express the people’s will and control the activities of public authorities.”
The court also issued international arrest warrants for three U.S. military personnel who were not present in Spain.
An appeal of this decision is expected.
In the meantime, Spain’s main opposition political party (the Socialist Party) plans to appeal the constitutionality of this amendment to the country’s Constitutional Court. That Party apparently will argue that the amendment breached the right to “effective legal protection” and that the retroactivity of the amendment breached basic constitutional principles.