“Whose People Will Be Our People?”

This was the title of the November 18 sermon by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

Preparing for the Word

The Prelude for the service was Franz Joseph Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto (Movements I and II) that was performed by Douglas Carlsen, trumpet (Minnesota Orchestra) and Melanie Ohnstad, organ.

Associate Pastor, Rev.  Alanna Simone Tyler, then led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession:

  • “O Holy One, we gather today aware that we fall short of your hopes for us. We are a people divided. We do not trust one another. We forget we belong to the whole human family, not merely to our little circle. We do not accept the stranger as if it were you, O Christ. Forgive us, and make us one again, with you and with those from whom we are estranged.”

Listening for the Word

The Scriptures: Ruth 1: 1-18 (NRSV):

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”

“Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

“So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’”

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’”

“When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.”

The Sermon:

“Few stories in Hebrew Scripture are as central to our Christian narrative, and are as reflective of what God is up to in Jesus, as the account of Naomi and Ruth.”

In many ways it’s a thoroughly modern story, a tale of love and survival, of refugees and immigrants, of loyalty and generosity, of family legacy and the quiet strength of women.” (Emphasis added.)

“Naomi, an Israelite, marries a man from Bethlehem. They flee famine in Israel and travel as refugees to the land of Moab to the east, beyond the river Jordan, where they settle as a family.”

“But after a time Naomi’s husband dies, and with no one to provide for her and being a refugee from a foreign land, she faces serious hardship. Fortunately, her sons have grown up. They marry women of Moab, Orpah and Ruth, and can now care for their mother.”

“We often view the story of Ruth as the tale of individuals and the decisions they make. But their lives, and this story, are lived in a much broader context. Naomi, from Israel, and Ruth, from Moab, represent two nations historically in conflict. Their people are enemies.” (Emphasis added.)

“To get a feel for the unsettling power of this narrative, imagine it set in the modern Middle East. If we replace Moab with Palestinian Gaza, and Bethlehem with Israeli Tel Aviv, we begin to get a sense of the larger, treacherous, complicated implications of this story.” (Emphasis added.)

“For a time all is well for Naomi in her new life in Moab, but then tragedy strikes again. Both sons die, leaving her vulnerable once more. The only hope for Naomi is to return to Bethlehem where she has relatives on whom she might be able to depend. She learns the famine that caused them to leave in the first place is over, and she decides to go home.”

“When Naomi sets off for Bethlehem, her two daughters-in-law decide to go with her, but Naomi stops them. She tells them to go home to their own people, where they have a chance of surviving, of marrying again and starting new families, and being among their own people. Orpah chooses to return home, but Ruth’s love and loyalty compel her to go with her mother-in-law, who tries again to dissuade her. I imagine them standing on the banks of the Jordan, the border between Moab and Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, Naomi urging her to return home one last time. But Ruth stands her ground.”

“’Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!’ she says to Naomi.”

  • Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.’ (Ruth 1:17-18)” (Emphasis added.)

“It’s a stunning soliloquy, with far-reaching consequences. With her words, Ruth reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions. She chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations. She sets self aside and declares her intention to use love as the measure by which she will live.” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth points to the dangers of exaggerated nationalism and the risks of restrictive boundaries within the human family. The story upends old rules about identity, and proposes new ways of thinking about relationships. It shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.” (Emphasis added.)

“After Ruth’s words, Naomi really has no choice, so the two of them set off together for Bethlehem, climbing up into the hills of Judah from the Jordan Valley. Once they get there, they have no means of sustaining themselves. In order to provide food for the two of them, Ruth goes to glean in the fields with other poor, hungry people, picking up leftovers after the harvest. She happens to do this, to glean, in the field of Boaz, a kinsman of her dead husband’s family.”

“Boaz sees her and is attracted to her, and asks about her and, eventually, with a little encouragement from Ruth, falls in love with her. They have a son named Obed, whose wife has a son named Jesse. Remember the prophetic prediction that ‘a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse?’ That shoot would be David, son of Jesse, great-grandson of Ruth – David, who would become king of Israel, and from whose line the Messiah would one day come, as the prophets of old had foretold.” (Emphasis added.)

“In other words, without the courage and strength of Naomi and the perseverance and love of Ruth, the story would end. There would have been no Obed, no Jesse, no David – and, eventually, no Jesus. The entire biblical story for Christians rests on this one foreign enemy woman, a young widow who leaves her own people, with great risk, goes with her mother-in-law, to support her, because it was the right and just thing to do. As the Shaker poem the choir sang earlier says, ‘Love will do the thing that’s right.’”

“’Where you go I will go, ‘Ruth says. ‘Where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.’”

The prophet Micah asks, ‘What does the Lord require of us’ Ruth, a foreigner not under the law of the Hebrews, instinctively knows the answer: ‘To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.’” (Emphasis added.)

The story of Ruth is a parable for our time. It may not be Moab and Israel, but in America today we live as if we were enemies of one another. There’s no longer a common understanding of what unites us as a people. We think the worst of those with whom we disagree. Everything has a zero-sum quality to it. Either you’re with me or you’re against me.” (Emphases added.)

“Your people cannot possibly be my people.”

“American individualism has always been in creative and generative tension with the call to live as one community. These days, however, that tension has largely been displaced by rampant sectarianism. Very few now try even to talk across the divide anymore. Rigid partisanship precludes the possibility of building a shared purpose as a people. We cannot see beyond our own firm boundaries.”

“Presidential historian Michael Beschloss spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum last Tuesday. More than 1700 people were here. The sanctuary and Westminster Hall were filled to overflowing.” [2]

“We were surprised by the crowd. Why did so many people come? The midterm elections were over and the relentless campaigning was behind us , and I think people wanted to take a longer view of where things stand in America. We had just marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending the First World War. And our national Day of Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, always a time to pause and reflect on the road we as a people have trod, and on the journey ahead. People came that day to find hope for the future of our nation.”

“The questions asked of Beschloss at the Town Hall Forum focused less on any particular president, current or historic, and more on the present contentiousness in our land. People wrote question expressing serious anxiety about the health of our democracy. They wanted to hear from a professional historian whether things are as bad as they seem. They are, in his view.“

“Beschloss is deeply concerned about the nation and its future. In his study of history, he said, he knew of few times in our country’s life as fraught with division and discord, and the potential for worse, as ours. Even as he expressed hope about the enduring strength of American democracy, he warned about the risk of conflict escalating into violence.”

“This is not only a Republican-Democrat problem, or a conservative-progressive matter. It’s not even solely a political problem, nor merely a lack of civility. It’s something far more than that.”

“It’s the same question Ruth faced, a question of identity and belonging: whose people will be my people? Our people?”

“It shows up in the rural-urban divide. It can be seen in the widening gulf between those with a high level of economic comfort and those who have been left behind – and in the policies aimed at keeping things like that. We see it in unresolved racial disparities among us. It’s there in the backlash against immigrants. There’s a growing education gap and a perception of elitism among us.”

“We’re all caught up in it. We’re all caught up in the cultural dividing lines that cut across the nation. And naturally we think the “other side” is at fault; but none of us is innocent.”

“Beschloss said that when American presidents have found themselves leading in a time of war they always become more religious. He described Lincoln coming to Washington as an agnostic, and maybe even an atheist,, but as he sent men off to fight and die on the battlefield he turned to the Bible and to prayer for wisdom and strength and succor. We can hear it in his speeches; he quoted scripture all the time. He needed something beyond his own resources to bear the terrible burden and to help resolve the national crisis.”

“We need something, as well, beyond our own limited resources. What we’re facing, I think, can be described as a spiritual problem. We’re too mired in mundane, daily outrage to see things from a higher point of view.” (Emphasis added.)

“In contrast, Ruth refuses to let the prevailing perception of reality – that Moab and Israel are enemies – define her own point of view. She chooses to live according to a different reality. She seeks a deeper, broader, more generous perspective on the human family. She lifts her vision above the discord and looks beyond it. She wants to see things more as God intends them to be, not as the world sees them.”

“We’re in a moment where our nation lacks that kind of moral vision, a vision that looks beyond the immediacies of our divided house, a vision summoning us to conceive anew the possibilities the American experiment was meant to offer. We cannot keep living like this; there’s simply too much at stake not to try to reclaim the values at the heart of our democracy – values never perfectly implemented, but that have served as aspirational measures of our life together.”

This is a Naomi and Ruth moment, and the question facing us is: whose people will be our people?” (Emphasis added.)

As Christians, we believe that Jesus embodies God’s response to that question.” (Emphasis added.)

“In the coming season we will we speak of this one who is born in Bethlehem, the descendant of David. We will speak of him as Emmanuel, God with us.”

Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally, even at the risk of losing his own life.” (Emphasis added.)

In Jesus, and in Ruth, we have the blueprint for human community: a generosity of spirit that starts by saying, “Your people will be our people.” (Emphasis added.)

“Thanks be to God.”

Reflections

This sermon provided historical and contemporary contexts that made the story of Ruth and Naomi more powerful.

Naomi and Ruth were from countries, Israel and Moab respectively, that were enemies. Yet Ruth “reframes and redefines existing norms and realigns historic assumptions.” She “chooses to ignore the accepted boundaries between people and nations” and thereby “shows that grace and generous love can disrupt historic patterns of exclusivity.”

“Jesus does with all humanity what Ruth does with Naomi. He lives for others and loves them unconditionally.”

It is easiest for nearly everyone to first experience love in a family and define yourself as a member of that family. Then as we grow up we enlarge the family group to include friends and neighbors, eventually people from a geographical area and then a nation. All of these groups are logical and hopefully enriching.

The challenge then is to understand and treasure all human beings who are outside these groups. We are offered opportunities to do so by reading about people in other cultures and lands, by seeking to engage with nearby neighbors with different cultures and traditions, by welcoming newcomers of all faiths and traditions to our cities and towns and by traveling to other lands.

I have been blessed in this quest by a superb education; by living and studying for two years in the United Kingdom; by traveling to many other countries in Europe, North America and Latin America and a few countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa; by being a pro bono asylum lawyer for Salvadorans, Somalis, Colombians and men from Afghanistan and Burma; by learning and teaching international human rights law; by researching and writing blog posts about Cuba, Cameroon and other countries and issues; and by getting to know their peoples and by getting to know people in Minnesota from many other countries.

Especially meaningful for me has been involvement in Westminster’s Global Partnerships in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine and learning more about these countries’ histories, traditions and problems and establishing friendships with individuals in these countries. For example, this past May, individuals from these three counties visited Westminster in Minneapolis and we all shared our joys and challenges. Especially enriching were three worship services focused on each of our partnerships.

For example, our May 20, 2018, service on Pentecost Sunday featured our Palestinian brothers and sisters from our partner congregation, Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.[3]

We had Palestinian music from the Georges Lammam Ensemble (San Francisco, California). Rev. Munther Isaac, the Senior Pastor of our partner congregation, provided the Pastoral Prayer and led the unison Lord’s Prayer. My new friend, Adel Nasser from Bethlehem, chanted the Twenty-third Psalm in Arabic.

Then Rev. Mitri Raheb, the President of Dar-Al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, had an illuminating conversational sermon with Rev. Hart-Andersen that was centered on the Biblical text (Acts 2: 1-12). This passage talks about a gathering in Jerusalem of  people “from every nation under heaven,” each speaking “in the native language of each” and yet hearing, “each of us, in our own native language” and thus understanding one another. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation:

  • Hart-Andersen said the text emphasized that all of these people were in one place together, affirming the vast display of God’s creative goodness in the human family when no one has to surrender his or her own identity and thereby affirms the identity of every human being.
  • This is what God wants in the human family, Hart-Andersen continued. Make space for people who are different. The miracle of Pentecost is the existence of bridges over these differences and the destruction of walls that we tend to build around our own little groups.
  • Hart-Andersen also pointed out that Minnesota today is like that earlier gathering at Pentecost with over 100 different language groups in the State.
  • Raheb agreed, saying that Palestine is also very diverse and God wants diversity in the human family. As a result, there is a need to build bridges between different groups, and the Covenant Agreement between Westminster and Christmas Lutheran Church expressly calls for building bridges between the U.S. and Palestine. He also treasures the gathering this month of Cubans and Cameroonians with the Palestinians and Americans because it helped to build bridges among all four of these groups. We were experiencing Pentecost in Minneapolis.
  • Raheb also mentioned that the original Pentecost featured the miracle of understanding among the people speaking different languages. The Holy Spirit provided the software enabling this understanding.
  • Hart-Andersen said the diversity of the human family compels us to build bridges. The mission of the church is to resist walls that keep us apart.
  • Raheb emphasized that Acts 2:1-12 is a foundational text for Arabic Christianity as it mentions Arabs as being present on Pentecost.
  • He also contrasted Pentecost with the Genesis account (Chapter 11) of “the whole earth [having] one language and the same words” and the resulting arrogance to attempt to build a tower to the heavens. God responded by confusing their language” so that they would not understand one another and stop building the tower of Babel. This is emblematic of empires throughout history that have attempted to impose one language on all parts of the empire.

Yes, we all are brothers and sisters in Christ!

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[1]  The text of the sermon is available on the church’s website.

[2] See Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum, dwkcomentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2018).

[3] The bulletin and an audio recording for this May 20 service are available on the Westminster website.

 

Palestine Has Decided To Join the International Criminal Court

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi

On September 2nd at the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Hanan Ashraw, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said that Palestine has decided to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ever since Palestine obtained observer-state status at the U.N. in late 2012, over Israeli and U.S. opposition, Palestine’s government has threatened to join the Court as a way to prosecute Israeli actions in the occupied territories. But the PLO deferred a decision, Dr. Ashrawi said, in order to give U.S.-led diplomacy a chance to succeed.

The deferral also gave the P.L.O. leadership the opportunity to convince other Palestinian political factions, including the militants, that they would have more to gain than to lose from joining the ICC, including subjecting Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to its jurisdiction. The PLO leadership, Dr. Ashrawi said, “wanted to ensure that all factions are O.K. with it,” and now they are.

As a prior post reported, Palestine with observer-state status at the U.N. is eligible to join the ICC. The U.S. and Israel are opposed to such membership, but they cannot prevent it from happening.

Later this month, the Palestinians are planning another move to put more pressure on Israel. This will be a motion to have the U.N. Security Council demand that Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territory within three years. If such a motion is made, the U.S. is expected to veto the measure. Anticipating such a veto, the Palestinians may put the issue before the U.N. General Assembly, where Palestine has wide support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Criminal Court Prosecutor: ICC has No Jurisdiction Over Alleged War Crimes in Palestine (Gaza)

International Criminal Court
International Criminal Court

On September 2, 2014, the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement, “The Public Deserves to know the Truth about the ICC’s Jurisdiction over Palestine.” The conclusion? The Court has no jurisdiction over any claims arising out of events in Palestine.

As the statement says, the “Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, is open to participation by states. [The] Prosecutor . . . can only investigate and prosecute crimes committed on the territory or by the nationals of states that have joined the ICC Statute or which have otherwise accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC through an ad hoc declaration to that effect pursuant to article 12-3 of the Statute.” Those requirements for ICC jurisdiction have not been satisfied. Here are the predicates for that conclusion:

  • In 2009 the Palestinian Authority sought to   accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, but the Prosecutor in April 2012 after “thorough analysis and public consultations” concluded that the Palestinian Authority’s “observer entity” status at the UN at that time meant that it could not sign up to the Rome Statute. As Palestine could not join the Rome Statute, the former Prosecutor concluded that it could not lodge an article 12-3 declaration bringing itself under the ambit of the treaty either, as it had sought to do. “  (Emphases added.)
  • On November 29, 2012, Palestine’s status was upgraded by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to “non-member observer State” through the adoption of resolution 67/19. The [Prosecutor’s] Office examined the legal implications of this development for its purposes and concluded that while this change did not retroactively validate the previously invalid 2009 declaration lodged without the necessary standing, Palestine could now join the Rome Statute.”[1]
  • “To date, [however,] the Rome Statute is not one of the treaties that Palestine has decided to accede to, nor has it lodged a new declaration [accepting the Court’s jurisdiction] following the November 2012 UNGA resolution.”
  • “It is a matter of public record that Palestinian leaders are in the process of consulting internally on whether to do so; the decision is theirs alone to make and the ICC Prosecutor cannot take this decision for them.”

If the requirements for jurisdiction over events in Palestine were established, the Prosecutor said she “will vigorously pursue those – irrespective of status or affiliation – who commit mass crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.”

Finally, the statement said, “The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC has never been in a position to open such an investigation for lack of jurisdiction. We have always, clearly and publicly, stated the reasons why this is so.” Indeed, in November 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor released its Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2013, which on pages 53-54 set forth basically the same analysis and conclusion in the just released statement.

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[1] A prior post discussed the U.N. General Assembly resolution upgrading Palestine’s status and the resulting Prosecutor’s investigation of that development on ICC jurisdiction. Earlier posts in 2011 and 2012 also touched on the jurisdictional issue regarding Palestine while another post provided an introduction to the ICC..

Amending Spain’s Universal Jurisdiction Statute

Spain currently is in the process of adopting an amendment to its statute regarding universal jurisdiction for one of its courts. This post will examine that forthcoming amendment after looking at the background of that amendment.

Background

Under customary international law and certain treaties, a nation state has universal jurisdiction over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the victims or perpetrators. These crimes of international concern are (a) piracy; (b) slavery; (c) war crimes; (d) crimes against peace; (e) crimes against humanity; (f) genocide; and (g) torture. (This was discussed in a prior post.)

Spain implemented this principle in 1985 in its own domestic statutory law by conferring such jurisdiction on its National Court (La Audiencia Nacional) for the following crimes: (a) genocide; (b) terrorism; (c) piracy and hijacking of aircraft; (d) falsification of foreign currency; (e) prostitution and corruption of minors or incompetents; (f) trafficking in illegal, psychotropic, toxic and narcotic drugs; and (g) any other crimes under international treaties or conventions that should be prosecuted in Spain.

In 2009 Spain amended this statute to add these additional crimes for universal jurisdiction: crimes against humanity; illegal trafficking or illegal immigration of persons; and female genital mutilation (FGM). In addition, the amendment specified that these conditions or limitations had to be established for such jurisdiction: the alleged perpetrators were in Spain; or the victims were of Spanish nationality; or there was another connecting link to Spain.

Finally the 2009 amendment specified that for such Spanish jurisdiction to exist, another country or international tribunal had not started a process involving an investigation and successful prosecution of such offenses; if there were such another process, then the Spanish court should suspend or stay its case until the other investigation and prosecution has been concluded. The latter provision is referred to as the subsidiary principle.

The New Amendment

On February 11, 2014, Spain’s Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados), the lower house of the country’s bicameral legislature (los Cortes Generales), approved another amendment to this statute (Article 23.4 of the 1985 Organic Law of the Judicial Power, as amended).[1] Since the same political party (Party Popular) also controls Spain’s Senate, it is anticipated that the Senate will pass the bill as well. Here are the principal provisions of the amendment:

  • The following specific crimes were added for universal jurisdiction: (i) war crimes (crimes against persons or goods in armed conflict); (ii) torture and crimes against moral integrity; (iii) crimes under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; (iv) crimes covered by the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention and combatting of violence against women and domestic violence; (v) offenses of corruption between private or international economic transactions; and (vi) crimes of enforced disappearances under the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
  • Greater specificity was provided for offenses other than piracy covered by the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and its Protocol; offenses other than hijacking of aircraft under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation and its Supplemental Protocol; crimes against sexual freedom committed on children; and trafficking in human beings.
  • For genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, universal jurisdiction exists only if the accused individual is a Spanish citizen or a foreign citizen who is habitually resident in Spain or a foreigner who is found in Spain and whose extradition had been denied by Spanish authorities.
  • For torture and disappearances, universal jurisdiction exists only if the prospective defendant is a Spanish citizen, or the victims were (at the time of the events in question) Spanish citizens and the person accused of the crime was in Spanish territory.
  • Only public prosecutors and victims may initiate criminal proceedings under universal jurisdiction; other private individuals or groups (acusaciones populares) may not do so.
  • Pending cases under the universal jurisdiction provision would be stayed and thereafter dismissed if they could not satisfy these new conditions.

There currently are 12 cases under this jurisdictional provision pending in Spanish courts, and presumably they all will be dismissed under this new amendment. They are the following:

  1. Genocide in Tibet. In 2006 the court commenced an investigation against five former Chinese Communist leaders, including former President Jiang Zemin, for alleged genocide in Tibet. In November 2013, the court issued arrest warrants for these individuals, and in early February 2014, the court rejected the prosecutor’s motion to quash the warrants. As a result, the court on February 10th asked INTERPOL to issue international arrest warrants for the Chinese individuals.
  2. Genocide in Guatemala. In 2003 the court commenced an investigation of eight former senior Guatemalan officials for alleged genocide, terrorism and torture.
  3. Genocide in Sahara. In 2006 a NGO commenced a case against 31 Moroccan military officers for alleged genocide in the Sahara Desert.
  4. Genocide in Rwanda. In 2005 an investigation was commenced against 69 senior Rwandan officials for alleged genocide and murder, and in 2008 arrest warrants were issued for 40 Rwandan soldiers.
  5. Holocaust. In 2008 a case was commenced by Spanish survivors of the Holocaust against four SS guards, and in 2009 international arrest warrants were issued for three of these guards.
  6. Murder of Spanish Diplomat. In 2012 the court commenced an investigation against seven Chilean officials for alleged participation in the 1976 kidnapping and assassination of a Spanish diplomat, Carmelo Soria. Last year a Chilean court rejected Spain’s request for the arrest of the officials.
  7. Persecution of Falun Gong. In 2006 the court started an investigation of alleged persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government between 1999 and 2002.
  8. Israeli Attack on “Freedom Flotilla” to Gaza. In 2010 the court started an investigation of Israeli officials for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity for an armed assault on ships with materials for Palestinians in Gaza.
  9. Murder of Spanish Journalist. In 2003 the court started an investigation of alleged U.S. military personnel in the 2003 death of a Spanish journalist, Jose Couso, in Iraq.
  10. Torture of Detainees on CIA Flights. In 2006 the court started an investigation of possible violations by CIA or other U.S. personnel with respect to detainees on CIA flights stopping at an airport in Spanish territory.
  11. Iraqi attack on Iranian refugee camp. In 2009 the court started to investigate an alleged Iraqi military attack on an Iranian refugee camp in 2008.
  12. Murder of the Jesuit priests. In 1999 the court commenced to investigate the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, and in 2011 the court ordered the arrest of 20 former Salvadoran military officials.

The immediate precipitating causes for the Spanish government’s seeking and obtaining approval of this amendment at this time are widely seen as the Spanish court’s issuance of arrest warrants, and seeking INTERPOL arrest warrants, for high officials of the Chinese Communist Party, including a former president of the country, for alleged genocide in Tibet; China’s vehement protests of these developments; and the Spanish government’s desire for a friendly economic relationship with China.

Indeed, on February 11th, China’s Foreign Ministry said, “China is extremely dissatisfied with and resolutely opposed to the wrong actions of the relevant Spanish [court] taken while ignoring China’s solemn position. Whether or not this issue can be appropriately dealt with is related to the healthy development of ties. We hope that the Spanish government can distinguish right from wrong.”

Human rights groups opposed the current proposed amendment. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Justice and Accountability and 14 others argue that under multilateral treaties ratified by Spain it has a legal obligation to prosecute any suspected offender of those treaties—regardless of where the crime was committed,[2] who is found in Spain. Moreover, these groups say, the International Court of Justice explained in the case Belgium v. Senegal, this duty to prosecute arises “irrespective of the existence of a prior request for the extradition of the suspect” and requires States to adopt legislation giving its courts the necessary jurisdiction.

Conclusion

Although I regard myself as an human rights advocate and have great respect for Amnesty International and the other NGOs that have opposed the amendment, I dissent from their objections.

In my opinion, the amendment is a reaffirmation of Spain’s implementation of such jurisdiction. Indeed, as noted above, but not acknowledged in the NGOs’ objections, the amendment expands the crimes that are subject to universal jurisdiction and provides greater specificity for some of the crimes previously covered by the statute. This is important for future use of the statute and for due process notice to individuals who may be charged with such crimes in the future.

The main objection appears to be the amendment’s requirement for universal jurisdiction in some instances for an accused foreigner to be present (habitually resident or found) in Spain. This is akin to the U.S. constitutional due process requirement for a defendant to be present in the jurisdiction in order for personal jurisdiction in civil cases to exist, and I believe it is a reasonable requirement for criminal cases in Spain under its universal jurisdiction provisions.

Moreover, in many, if not all, of the previously mentioned 12 pending cases in Spain, the defendants have never been in Spain, and this has lead to the Spanish court’s unsuccessful efforts to enforce its own arrest warrants or the INTERPOL international arrest warrants. As a result, actual criminal prosecutions in these 12 cases have not even been commenced.

I know this is true in the case against 20 former Salvadoran military officers for their alleged involvement in the horrendous murders of the six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador in November 1989. I think it is outrageous that these 20 individuals so far have not faced any criminal accountability or punishment for their alleged complicity in this awful crime and thus have de facto immunity or impunity for their actions, and I had hoped that the criminal case in Spain under its universal jurisdiction statute would bring them to justice. But unfortunately that has not happened. (Other posts on Spain’s case regarding the Jesuits’ murders, 6/15/11 and 8/26/11.)

Objection also has been made to the amendment’s imposing a requirement for universal jurisdiction in some instances for Spain to have denied a request for extradition. But at least as I read the English translation of the amendment, this requirement exists only for those foreigners who are temporarily in Spain and does not apply to foreigners who habitually reside in the country. For the passers-by this seems like a due process concern. How would you like while on holiday for one week on the Costa Brava to be charged with a serious crime  by a Spanish court for something you allegedly did in the U.S. 10 years ago?

Furthermore, the amendment’s limitations also appear to be reasonable to make efficient use of Spanish judicial resources.

Finally, the Spanish government, in my opinion, has a legitimate interest in its efforts to have friendly economic relations with China as Spain continues to struggle to emerge from its economic difficulties, including high unemployment. Pursing justice for horrible crimes committed elsewhere is a laudable purpose and goal, but it is not the only purpose and goal of the Spanish government or any country’s government.

As an U.S. scholar stated, “With unemployment at 25 percent, Spaniards would be right to wonder why their officials were using taxpayer resources for other peoples’ problems and simultaneously risking even more Iberian jobs.”


[1] This summary of Spain’s new amendment by a retired U.S. lawyer who is not an expert on Spanish law is based upon the English translation of the new law (Proposed Law on Universal Justice to amend the Organic Law 6/1985 of 1 July on the Judiciary on universal justice, No. 122/000136) and of Spain’s Congress’ press release about the bill and the following English-language sources and translations (from Spanish): Perez, High court to follow through on arrest warrants against top Chinese officials, El Pais in English (Feb. 7, 2014); Amnesty Int’l and 15 other Human Rights Organizations, Spanish Lawmakers Should Reject Proposal Aimed at Closing the Door on Justice for the Most Serious Crimes (Feb. 10, 2014);   Yardley, Spain Seeks to Curb Law Allowing Judges to Pursue Cases Globally, N.Y. Times (Feb. 10, 2014); Moffett, Spain’s Lower House Approves Law to Limit Judges’ Reach, W.S.J. (Feb. 11, 2014);  The twelve causes of ‘universal justice,’ El Mundo (Feb. 11, 2014); Molto, Tibet to universal justice: Chronicle of an announced impunity, El Pais (Feb.11, 2014); Kassam, Spain moves to curb legal convention allowing trials of foreign rights abuses, Guardian (Feb. 11, 2014).

[2] These treaties include the Geneva Conventions; the U.N. Convention against Torture; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances; the Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft; and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.