U.S. State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom

In July 2018, the U.S. State Department held the first ever Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom.[1] At the event’s conclusion, the State Department issued various documents that are discussed below.

The Potomac Declaration [2]

After quoting Article 18 regarding religious freedom of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, the Potomac Declaration asserted, “This right is under attack all around the world. Almost 80 percent of the global population reportedly experience severe limitations on this right. Persecution, repression, and discrimination on the basis of religion, belief, or non-belief are a daily reality for too many. It is time to address these challenges directly.” Therefore, the Chairman of the Ministerial (Secretary Pompeo) declared: the following:

  • “Every person everywhere has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Every person has the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and enjoys the freedom to change faith.
  • Religious freedom is universal and inalienable, and states must respect and protect this human right.
  • A person’s conscience is inviolable. The right to freedom of conscience, as set out in international human rights instruments, lies at the heart of religious freedom.
  • Persons are equal based on their shared humanity. There should be no discrimination on account of a person’s religion or belief. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. Citizenship or the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms should not depend on religious identification or heritage.
  • Coercion aimed at forcing a person to adopt a certain religion is inconsistent with and a violation of the right to religious freedom. The threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adopt different beliefs, to recant their faith, or to reveal their faith is entirely at odds with freedom of religion.
  • Religious freedom applies to all individuals as right-holders. Believers can exercise this right alone or in community with others, and in public or private. While religions do not have human rights themselves, religious communities and their institutions benefit through the human rights enjoyed by their individual members.
  • Persons who belong to faith communities and non-believers alike have the right to participate freely in the public discourse of their respective societies. A state’s establishment of an official religion or traditional faith should not impair religious freedom or foster discrimination towards adherents of other religions or non-believers.
  • The active enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief encompasses many manifestations and a broad range of practices. These can include worship, observance, prayer, practice, teaching, and other activities.
  • Parents and legal guardians have the liberty to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
  • Religion plays an important role in humanity’s common history and in societies today. The cultural heritage sites and objects important for past, present, and future religious practices should be preserved and treated with respect.”

The Potomac Plan of Action [3]

The lengthier Plan of Action also was issued by the Chairman of the Ministerial. It states as follows:

Defending the Human Right of Freedom of Religion or Belief

States should increase collective advocacy and coordination to promote and protect religious freedom and to counter the persecution of individuals because of religion or belief. In that spirit, states should work to:

  • Condemn strongly acts of discrimination and violence in the name of or against a particular religion or lack thereof and press for immediate accountability for those responsible for such violence, including state and non-state actors.
  • Protect members of religious communities, dissenting members, and non-believers from threats to their freedom, safety, livelihood, and security on account of their beliefs.
  • Respect the liberty of parents to provide their children religious and moral education in conformity with their own conscience and convictions and to ensure members of religious minority communities and non-believers are not forcibly indoctrinated into other faiths.
  • Protect the ability of religious adherents, institutions, and organizations to produce in quantities they desire religious publications and materials, as well as to import and disseminate such materials.
  • Increase international understanding of how suppression of religious freedom can contribute to violent extremism, sectarianism, conflict, insecurity, and instability.
  • Ensure false accusations of “extremism” are not used as a pretext to suppress the freedom of individuals to express their religious beliefs and to practice their faith, or otherwise limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
  • Eliminate restrictions unduly limiting the ability of believers and non-believers to manifest their faith or beliefs in observance and practice, either alone or in community with others, through peaceful assembly, worship, observance, prayer, practice, teaching, and other activities.
  • Speak out bilaterally, as well as through multilateral fora, against violations or abuses of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Confronting Legal Limitations

States should promote religious freedom and bring their laws and policies into line with international human rights norms regarding freedom of religion or belief. In that spirit, states should work to:

  • Protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief and ensure individuals can freely change beliefs, or not believe, without penalty or fear of violence, and encourage the repeal of provisions penalizing or discriminating against individuals for leaving or changing their religion or belief.
  • Encourage any state-managed registration systems for official recognition of religious communities be optional (rather than mandatory) and not unduly burdensome, so as to help facilitate the free and legal practice of religion for communities of believers.
  • Allow religious communities to establish freely accessible places of worship or assembly in public or private, to organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structures, to train their religious personnel and community members, and to select, appoint, and replace their personnel in accordance with their beliefs without government interference.
  • Repeal anti-blasphemy laws, which are inherently subjective, and often contribute to sectarianism and violent extremism. Enforcement of such laws unduly inhibits the exercise of the rights to freedoms of religion, belief, and expression and leads to other human rights violations or abuses.
  • Recognize that respect for religious freedom can afford space to religious actors to engage in constructive efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism, terrorism and conflict, and to collaborate with non-religious actors on the same.
  • Encourage the development of conscientious objection laws and policies to accommodate the religious beliefs of military age persons and provide alternatives to military service.

Advocating for Equal Rights and Protections for All, Including Members of Religious Minorities

States should promote the human rights of members of religious minorities, dissenting members from the majority faith, and non-believers, including freedom of religion or belief. In that spirit, states should work to:

  • Treat all persons equally under the law – regardless of an individual’s religion, beliefs or religious affiliation, or lack thereof – and ensure law enforcement officials take measures to protect all persons, including members of religious minorities, from harm or discriminatory acts on account of their faith or beliefs.
  • Prevent discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in access to justice, employment, education and housing, in personal status and family laws, and in access to opportunities for expression in public forums.
  • Ensure that all people, including religious minority community members, are free from forced conversions, and are entitled to and receive equal protection under the law without discrimination.
  • Respond quickly to physical assaults on persons and the destruction or vandalizing of holy sites or property based on religion or belief, and hold those responsible accountable.
  • Encourage teaching about the value of intra- and inter-faith understanding and collaboration, and promote a general understanding of world religions to reduce harmful misunderstandings and stereotypes.
  • Foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of members of all religious communities, including migrant workers, to practice their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.
  • Encourage authorities to denounce and condemn public discrimination and crimes targeting individuals on account of their religion or belief or lack thereof.

Responding to Genocide and other Mass Atrocities

States should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other necessary means to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, including when based on religious convictions. In that spirit, states should work to:

  • Take immediate action to protect their populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.
  • Condemn messages or narratives that promote violence against the holders of certain religious or other beliefs or that foster intra- and inter-religious tensions, whether by government officials or non-state actors.
  • Take steps to support investigative efforts and work to preserve evidence and document suspected crimes when reports of atrocities arise, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing.
  • Hold accountable those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, mass atrocities, and ethnic cleansing and related crimes, and employ mechanisms to promote accountability, justice, and reconciliation.
  • Consider the needs of survivors and families of survivors of atrocities and provide them assistance and resources to help rebuild and heal traumatized communities and individuals in post-conflict areas.
  • Work with willing victims and survivors of mass atrocities to develop and disseminate communications and educational efforts about their experiences, recovery and resilience.

Preserving Cultural Heritage

States should increase efforts to protect and preserve cultural heritage, including that of threatened minority religious communities, particularly in conflict zones, and to preserve cultural heritage sites, even those of communities whose members have dwindled or emigrated to other countries. In that spirit, states should work to:

  • Adopt and implement policies that introduce or improve inventory lists of cultural sites and objects that promote respect for and protect heritage, including places of worship and religious sites, shrines, and cemeteries, and that take appropriate protective measures where such sites are vulnerable to vandalism or destruction by state or non-state actors.
  • Safeguard heritage sites, and help other governments do so, by offering technical assistance and professional training to relevant officials, as well as provide emergency assistance for sites in immediate danger.
  • Assist impacted communities to secure, protect, repair and/or stabilize their cultural heritage sites.
  • Encourage participation by the local population in the preservation of their cultural heritage, and engage members of religious communities and others, including their leadership, with training on ways to protect their cultural heritage from damage and/or looting.
  • Assist with efforts to restore cultural heritage sites of significance to multiple communities in a conflict zone so as to foster intra- and inter-faith relations and rebuild trust.
  • Raise public awareness, particularly among youth, of the significance and history of cultural heritage, by working with and through religious actors and other community leaders.

Strengthening the Response

States should take actions to respond to threats to religious freedom that continue to proliferate around the world. In that spirit, states should consider endorsing the Potomac Declaration and work to:

  • Extend financial support to assist persons persecuted for their religious freedom advocacy, affiliation or practice, or for being a non-believer and support the capacity-building work of religious freedom advocacy organizations, and encourage private foundations to increase funding to such causes.
  • Strengthen rule-of-law, fair trial guarantees, and the institutional capacity to protect religious freedom and other human rights.
  • Provide additional diplomatic resources through the creation of special ambassadorial positions or focal points in foreign ministries, and support collective action through such groupings as the International Contact Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief.
  • Train and equip diplomats in the meaning and value of religious freedom and how to advance it.
  • Recommit annually to promoting religious freedom for all, by establishing August 3, the first day of ISIS’s Sinjar massacre targeting Yezidis, as a nationally or internationally recognized day of remembrance of survivors of religious persecution.
  • Allow and support civil society organizations and religious actors in their efforts to advocate for, and organize on behalf of, religious freedom, pluralism, peace and tolerance and related values.
  • Facilitate the creation of domestic forums, or utilize existing groups, where religious groups, faith-based organizations and civil society can meet to discuss concerns about religious freedom at home and abroad, as well as through bodies at the regional level.
  • Encourage government ministries and officials to engage with and listen to the domestic forums regularly, and implement relevant suggestions when possible.
  • Encourage national economic investment projects that foster collaboration and trust building across different communities and demonstrate the economic, societal and individual benefits of respect for religious freedom and pluralism.
  • Train and support religious community actors, including religious actors, to build resilience to and prevent violent extremism and terrorism, which negatively affect religious freedom, by disseminating alternative messages, engaging at-risk community members, and implementing intra- and inter-faith partnerships.

International Religious Freedom Fund [4]

With the U.S. providing coverage for all personnel, administrative and overhead expenses, all of the funds contributed by others would fund the following program activities:

  • Supporting initiatives that address the barriers to freedom of religion or belief. This encompasses activities such as advocacy initiatives, awareness campaigns, public messaging, community inclusion efforts, conflict prevention
  • Providing assistance to those facing discrimination on the basis of religion or belief for individual needs including, assistance to address threats of violence; medical needs resulting from violent assault; and replacement of equipment damaged or confiscated as a result of harassment.

Other Actions of the Ministerial [5]

The Ministerial also issued statements about Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups; Iran; Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious freedom Repression; China; Burma; and Blasphemy/Apostasy Laws.

According to the Secretary of State before its convening, this Ministerial was to “reaffirm our commitment to religious freedom as a universal human right. This ministerial . . . . . . Religious freedom is indeed a universal human right that I will fight for. [The Ministerial] will not just be a discussion group. It will be about action. We look forward to identifying concrete ways to push back against persecution and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

At the conclusion of this Ministerial, the Secretary of State emphasized that “President Trump has directed his administration to advance and defend the rights of religious freedom at home and abroad, because religious freedom is a universal God-given right to which all people are entitled. It is also an essential building block for all free societies. Ensuring religious freedom around the world is a key priority of the Trump administration’s foreign policy.”

After describing what happened at the Ministerial, Secretary Pompeo complimented Vice President Pence’s announcement of the U.S. Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response, and the U.S. International Religious Freedom Fund. Pompeo also announced that the Department was creating a ten-day International Victor Leadership Program for those “working on the frontiers of religious freedom issues” around the world and a three-day workshop Boldline “to support and scale innovative public-private partnerships that promote and defend religious freedom around the world.” Also announced was the then upcoming Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action for religious freedom.

Conclusion

 Although as a member of a Presbyterian Church I strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, I approached the investigation of this Ministerial with some skepticism and fear that it was a device to promulgate what I would regard as a right-wing approach to religion and Christianity.

However, the above account of the work of the first Ministerial does not support such skepticism.Nor does the latest State Department annual report on international religious freedom insofar as it cites to the relevant international standards on the subject. Whether or not its gathered “evidence” or analysis of same meets the same standard is another issue for another day. [6]

Later this month the State Department will hold its second such Ministerial [7] for like-minded governments that have a demonstrated record of advancing religious freedom and are committed to promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or governments that have taken significant and meaningful steps to do so; and survivors or close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religion or beliefs. This Ministerial will have the following agenda:

  • Discuss opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally, including how such freedom, international development and humanitarian aid can work together.
  • Discuss best practices for religious freedom advocacy; limitations in forming, registering and recognizing religious communities; challenges facing religious minorities; combatting the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic behavior; countering violent extremism; religious freedom and national security; religious freedom and economic development; cultural heritage protection for religious sites; religious minorities and humanitarian crises; international development aid and religious freedom; and mobilizing faith leaders around peace and development goals.
  • Identify global challenges to religious freedom; develop innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and share new commitments to protect religious freedom for all. Invitations will be extended to

This blog will examine this second Ministerial’s work to see if there is any reason to change a favorable opinion about its work. As always, this blog invites reasoned pro and con comments, especially for topics or perspectives that were overlooked.

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[1] According to the State Department’s Diplomatic Dictionary, a “ministerial” is a “ formally arranged meeting of ministers of various states, such as the Defense or Foreign Ministers of the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

[2] State Dep’t, Potomac Declaration (July 24, 2018).

[3] State Dep’t, Potomac Plan of Action (July 24, 2018).

[3] State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Fund: Fact Sheet (July 27, 2018).

[4] State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Statement on Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups (July 26, 2018); State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Statement on Iran (July 26, 2018); State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious freedom Statement on Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious Freedom Repression (July 26, 2018); State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious freedom Statement on China (July 26, 2018); State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious freedom Statement on Burma (July 26, 2018); State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious freedom Statement on Blasphemy/Apostasy Laws (July 26, 2018).

[5] State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019).

[6] State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019)

[7] State Dep’t, Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, 16-18 July 2019 (June 21, 2019); State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Convenes Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (June 25, 2019).

 

Spanish Court Dismisses Criminal Investigation of Alleged Torture at U.S. Detention Facility at Guantánamo Bay Cuba

On July 17, 2015, Spain’s National Court’s Judge Jose de la Mata terminated Spain’s criminal investigation of alleged torture of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantânamo Bay Cuba. [1]

The reason for the termination was a 2014 statutory amendment narrowing Spain’s universal jurisdiction statute [2] and Spain’s Supreme Court’s May 2015, decision upholding that amendment in its affirmance of the dismissal of a case investigating alleged genocide in Tibet.[3]

More specifically the dismissal of the Guantánamo case was required, said the judge, because the investigation was not directed against a Spanish citizen or a foreigner who was habitually resident in Spain or a foreigner who was found in Spain and whose extradition had been denied.

An appeal from this decision has been taken by the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. One of the points of the appeal is the assertion that the court ignored evidence of the participation of Spanish police officials in some of the interrogations at Guantánamo. [4]

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[1] Poder Judicial España, El juez propone archivar el ‘caso Guantánamo’ por “no ser competencia española” (July 17, 2015).

[2] Under customary international law and certain treaties, a nation state’s courts have universal jurisdiction (UJ) over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the victim or perpetrator. 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.

Spain implemented this principle in 1985 in its own domestic statutory law by conferring such jurisdiction on its National Court for certain crimes, including genocide; terrorism; and any other crimes under international treaties or conventions that should be prosecuted in Spain. The March 2014 amendment of this statute, among other things, restricted universal jurisdiction for war crimes to cases where 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.

[3] Spain’s Audiencia Nacional (National Court) in June 2014 decided to terminate its investigation of alleged genocide in Tibet because of the amendment to the statute. Plaintiffs then appealed to Spain’s Supreme Court, which in May 2015 rejected that appeal.

[4] Center for Constitutional Rights, Former Detainees and Human Rights Groups Appeal Spain’s Decision to Discontinue Guantánamo Investigation (July 23, 2015).

Spanish Court Terminates Universal Jurisdiction Case Against Three U.S. Soldiers

On June 9, 2015, Judge Santiago Pedraz Gomez of Spain’s Audiencia Nacional (National Court) terminated Spain’s criminal investigation of three U.S. soldiers for the death of a Spanish cameraman who was killed in Iraq while covering the 2003 allied invasion of the country.

The reason for the termination was a 2014 statutory amendment narrowing Spain’s universal jurisdiction statute[1] and Spain’s Supreme Court’s May 2015, decision upholding that amendment in its affirmance of the dismissal of a case investigating alleged genocide in Tibet.[2]

Judge Pedraz in his June 9th decision deplored this amendment, which “prevents the persecution of any war crime committed against a Spaniard save in the unlikely situation that the alleged culprits have taken refuge in Spain.” As a result, Spaniards will be legally unprotected in similar cases that might arise in future. The Judge said, “Faced with such a crime committed against [Spanish] journalists or persons considered to be part of the civilian population (such as aid workers), neither the relatives nor the prosecutors will be able to request the opening of proceedings [in Spain] to at least identify the victim, request an autopsy or other urgent procedure, or investigate the circumstances.”

Earlier, in March 2014, and immediately after the adoption of the amendment, Judge Pedraz decided that the amendment could not be applied to this case because, he said, it contradicted Spain’s obligations under the 1949 Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Under that treaty, he said, Spain was obligated to “prosecute the crime (search for people and make them appear) regardless of the perpetrators’ nationalities and wherever they may be.” Therefore, “the judge must refrain from applying . . . [the new statutory amendment]. 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.”[3]

This decision was appealed, and in October 2014 the 20 judges of the Criminal Chamber of the National Court allowed the case to proceed for a procedural error by the prosecution without a ruling on the merits.

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[1] Under customary international law and certain treaties, a nation state’s courts have universal jurisdiction (UJ) over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the victim or perpetrator. 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. Spain implemented this principle in 1985 in its own domestic statutory law by conferring such jurisdiction on its National Court for certain crimes, including genocide; terrorism; and any other crimes under international treaties or conventions that should be prosecuted in Spain. The March 2014 amendment of this statute, among other things, restricted universal jurisdiction for war crimes to cases where 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.

[2] Spain’s National Court in June 2014 decided to terminate its investigation of alleged genocide in Tibet because of the amendment to the statute. Plaintiffs then appealed to Spain’s Supreme Court, which in May 2015 rejected that appeal.

[3] The earlier history of this case was discussed in another post.

 

The Birth of the Word “Genocide”

Raphael Lemkin
Raphael Lemkin

In the fall of 1944, the word “genocide” appeared for the very first time in the book “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe” by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who lost most of his family in the Holocaust and who fled to the U.S. in 1941. The book, which was published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, introduced the word as “A New Term and New Conception for Destruction of Nations.”[1]

Lemkin was inspired to create the term after listening to a 1941 radio speech by Winston Churchill, who talked about “the barbaric fury of the Nazis” and the world being “in the presence of a crime without a name.” Lemkin considered and then rejected terms like “barbarity,” “vandalism,” and “ethnocide.” Finally he created the word “genocide” by combining the Greek “genos” meaning “people” or “nation” with the Latin-derived suffix “-cide” for “killing.”

Lemkin then embarked on the mission of convincing governments to use the term to define a new crime under international law. In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly agreed with its approval of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. As of October 27, 2014, there are 146 states that are parties to this treaty.[2]

The treaty defines the crime of “genocide” as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [or] (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Now genocide is one of the crimes that is within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and within the customary international law principle of universal jurisdiction whereby any state may prosecute an individual for the crime regardless of where the crime occurred.

A new documentary film, “Watchers of the Sky,” brings Lemkin’s creative process to the screen by animating pages of his notebooks and by telling the stories of contemporary crusaders like Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the author of a book about post-World War II commissions of genocide, “A Problem from Hell.”

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[1] This post is based upon the citations embedded above and upon Ben Zimmer, How ‘Genocide’ Was Coined, W.S. J. (Oct. 27, 2014). The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was created by Andrew Carnegie in the early 20th century as discussed in a prior post.

[2] Although the Convention was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 and signed two days later for the U.S. by President Harry Truman, it was not ratified by the U.S. until 1988 as discussed in a prior post.

Spanish Court Issues Decision on Use of Universal Jurisdiction

On October 3, 2014, the 20 judges of the Criminal Chamber (Sala de lo Penal) of Spain’s National Court (Audiencia Nacional) issued an important ruling on Spain’s use of universal jurisdiction (UJ). In order to understand this decision, we first must look at UJ under customary international law and at Spain’s incorporation of this principle into its statutory law.

Customary International Law Regarding Universal Jurisdiction

Under customary international law and certain treaties, a nation state’s courts have UJ over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the victim or perpetrator. 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.

Spain’s Statutes Regarding Universal Jurisdiction

Spain implemented this principle in 1985 in its own domestic statutory law by conferring such jurisdiction on its National Court for certain crimes, including genocide; terrorism; and 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.

The 2009 amendment also 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.

In March 2014, Spain’s 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] Here are the principal provisions of the amendment that have been at issue in the October 3, 2014, decision by the Criminal Chamber of the National Court and in other recent judicial cases:

  • 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.
  • Certain crimes were added for universal jurisdiction, including war crimes (crimes against persons or goods in armed conflict); torture and crimes against moral integrity; and crimes covered by the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention and combatting of violence against women and domestic violence.[1]

The Criminal Chamber’s Decision Regarding Universal Jurisdiction

The October 3, 2014, Criminal Chamber’s decision concerned use of UJ in (i) the Jesuits Massacre Case; (ii) the Guatemala genocide case; (iii) the case against American service members for alleged murder of a Spanish cameraman in the Iraq war; (iv) the case against U.S. personnel for alleged torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay; and (v) cases involving alleged Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).[2]

Jesuits Massacre Case.[3] The Chamber unanimously decided that Spain had UJ over the lower court’s criminal investigation of the November 1989 murders in El Salvador of the Spanish Jesuit priest, Ignacio Ellacuria, five fellow Jesuit priests and their cook and her daughter. Although the statutory amendment imposed limits on UJ for crimes against humanity, such charges could be considered in this case because they are related to the murder charges for which there is clear UJ.

The Chamber further explained that upon having asserted jurisdiction over a set of criminal facts that constitute the state terrorism crime, Spanish Judges have jurisdiction over all other crimes connected to the facts investigated, even if that crime is a crime against humanity.

The Chamber’s decision was a result of an appeal from a decision by Judge Eloy Velasco, who handled the Jesuits case and who previously had indicted 20 Salvadoran military officials for murder, terrorism, and crimes against humanity. Velasco rejected the crime against humanity claim and decided to continue only with the terrorism claim. The appeal was brought by the U.S.-based Center for Justice & Accountability and the Spanish Pro Human Rights Association.

Guatemala Genocide case.[4] The Chamber also decided that investigations in the Guatemala Genocide case involving claimed UJ could proceed for the moment, but the Chamber did so on procedural grounds without reaching the merits.

The Chamber’s decision was the result of an appeal from the May 2014 decision by Judge Santiago Pedraz Gomez of the National Court. He decided that the case could proceed for two reasons. First, the charges include terrorism—a crime that falls within Spanish extraterritorial jurisdiction whenever there are Spanish victims. Second, the charges of terrorism, genocide, and other atrocities are all based on the same facts. Under Spanish law, as in many European countries, a court’s jurisdiction extends to all criminal charges that arise from the same acts. Because the Court has jurisdiction over the terrorism offenses, Judge Pedraz announced that he will investigate the other connected crimes.

Judge Pedraz’s rationale appears to be the same as the Chamber’s in allowing the Jesuits case to proceed on the merits.

Case Against American Servicemembers for Alleged Murder of a Spanish Cameraman. The lower court has been investigating a case under UJ against American soldiers in the Iraq war for the alleged murder in 2003 of a Spanish cameraman. The Chamber also allowed it to proceed for a procedural error by the prosecution without a ruling on the merits.

The Chamber’s decision was the result of an appeal from a March 2014, decision by the lower court’s Judge Santiago Pedraz Gómez. He held that the amendment could not be applied to this case because, he said, the amendment contradicted 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 . . . [the new statutory amendment]. 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.”

Case Against American Personnel for Alleged Torture of Guantanamo Detainees.[5] Another lower court judge has been investigating under UJ the alleged torture by American personnel of Guantanamo detainees. The chamber also allowed it to proceed because of a procedural error by the prosecution without the Chamber addressing the merits.

This decision occurred in an appeal from the March 2014 lower court’s Judge Pablo Ruz’ order. He concluded that under the new amendment “torture and war crimes cannot be pursued . . . because the target of the procedure is not a Spaniard or a resident of Spain.” These restrictions, however, are trumped, held the judge, by international treaties ratified by Spain–the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture–which force signatory countries to pursue crimes.

Judge Ruz also pointed out that the new amendment stipulates that crimes cannot be pursued in Spain if they are already being investigated by an international court or by the country where they were committed. Therefore, Judge Ruz this March renewed his request to the U.S. Government for information about U.S. investigation of this case. This blogger is not aware of any U.S. response to date to this request.

FGM Cases. The Chamber also unanimously decided that UJ could be used for criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) where the victims or perpetrators have some connection to Spain. This decision was based, in part, upon Spain’s August 1, 2014, ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which requires Spain to prosecute such crimes. The case involved the FGM of a young woman in Gambia in 2005

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[1] Other provisions of the original 1985 statute and the 2014 amendment are covered in a prior post.

[2]This post is based upon prior posts that are embedded above; the Spanish court’s announcement of the decision; Perez, The new universal justice can pursue ablation, El Pais (Oct. 3, 2014); Center for Justice & Accountability, Spanish National Court Upholds Spanish Jurisdiction To Investigate 1989 Massacre of Jesuit Priests in El Salvador (Oct. 3, 2014); Center for Justice & Accountability, Spain Presses Ahead with Guatemala Genocide Case Despite New Limits on Universal Jurisdiction (May 22, 2014). The text of the actual decision by the Criminal Chamber should become available online. Corrections or elaborations of this post by lawyers more knowledgeable about Spanish law are especially welcome.

[3] Some of the filings in the Jesuits case are available online.

[4] Some of the filings in the Guatemala case are available online.

[5] Many of the documents In the Guantanamo torture case are available online.

 

 

 

Argentina’s Exercise of Universal Jurisdiction Thwarted by Spain

An Argentine court has invoked universal jurisdiction over a case brought by relatives of people who were victims of torture and other crimes committed in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1933-1939) and the Franco regime (1939-1975).[1]

In September 2013 the Argentine court issued an international warrant for the arrest of four suspects in that case. Two of them are residents of Spain; the other two are deceased.[2]

Spain’s High Court’s Denial of Extradition

One of these suspects who lives in Spain, Jesús Muñecas, earlier this month appeared in Spain’s High Court to contest the Argentine court’s request to have him extradited to Argentina to face charges that while a Spanish Civil Guard captain in August 1968, he tortured and beat an individual at a Spanish prison. Muñecas’ opposition to extradition was supported by the Spanish prosecutor on the ground that the statute of limitations had expired on these charges.

On or about April 25th Spain’s High Court denied the extradition request. It said the Argentine charges did not reveal any facts that could be construed as genocide – a crime without a statute of limitations – and that even if torture were proven, Spain’s 10-year statute of limitations for torture had expired and, therefore, barred the case.

Spain’s High Court’s Invitation to Argentina To Start a Case in Spain

 In denying extradition of Senor Muñecas, the High Court added that Argentina could try to get the case opened in Spain. According to the High Court, “This would give the victims the possibility to access proceedings and, in some way, satisfy their desire for justice.”

This invitation is utterly disingenuous and ironical as shown below.

Baltasar Garzón
Baltasar Garzón

Previously Spain’s High Court had opened a criminal investigation of certain crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and Franco regime, but the investigation was quashed in May 2010. Simultaneously the judge who initiated that investigation, former High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón, was charged with a crime for doing so and suspended from his judicial service.

In February 2012, this criminal case against Garzón was dismissed when Spain’s Supreme Court decided that he had not abused his judicial power in initiating the investigation even though, according to the Court, he had overstepped his authority and “exceeded himself in the interpretation of the law” in doing so.

In the meantime, however, two other criminal cases were brought against Garzón.

One of these prosecutions resulted in his February 2012 conviction for prevarication (knowingly making an unjust decision) in a case involving his authorization of police bugging of communications between individuals charged with corruption and their attorneys. For this conviction, Judge Garzón was removed from the bench for 11 years and fined Euros 2,500.[3]

These three criminal cases against Garzón and his conviction in one of them have been widely condemned as motivated by the Spanish government’s desire to punish him for his Franco-era investigation as discussed in posts of February 10, 11 and 14, 2012.

One of the criticisms of his conviction came from the European Magistrates for Democracy and Freedom (EMDF), an organization with 15,000 members from 11 states of the European Union. They petitioned the Spanish courts for a pardon of Garzón because the organization believes his conviction and sentence affects the entire international judicial community and runs the risk of limiting judicial independence, especially in countries trying to construct a democratic system of justice. Judges must have the freedom to render their own legal interpretations, said this organization, and the Garzón case could be used to curb judges’ independence and autonomy.

In late February 2014, Spain’s Supreme Court opposed the EMDF’s petition for such a pardon on the ground that it did not satisfy certain legal criteria. The court also said it was inappropriate to reinstate Garzón as he maintains that he was within his rights to order the recordings of the attorney-client communications. Said the court, “In the request there is no indication that he has expressed remorse, and this court is not aware of his having done so.” Moreover, according to the court, Garzón had displayed “indifference” to his suspension “as a way of reaffirming his position prior to the sentence.”

Now Spain’s Ministry of Justice will make the final decision on the request for pardon. As of April 27th, the prosecution apparently had advised the Ministry that there were no reasons of justice, fairness or public interest to grant such a pardon.

Meanwhile in reaction to the Supreme Court decision opposing his pardon, Garzón said it was “not legal” for the Court to demand he show remorse. “This is not a legal requisite,” he said. Nor, he added, does the fact that it was EMDF that had requested the pardon reflect his “indifference.” Garzón reasserted his innocence and said, “I believe that this offense was created with the express purpose of punishing me, and that I am within my rights to disagree and to resort to another court, as I have done in Strasbourg [the European Court of Human Rights], in order to evaluate whether the Supreme Court has violated my fundamental rights.”[4]

Finally Spain High Court’s invitation for Argentina to start a case in Spain is ironic. Argentina decided to exercise universal jurisdiction over crimes committed during Spain’s Civil War and the Franco regime only after Spain quashed its own investigation of such crimes, the one initiated by Garzón. 

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[1]This post’s discussion of the Argentine proceedings is based upon Fabra, Ex-Civil Guard officer fights extradition to Argentina to face torture charges, El Pais (In English) (April 3, 2014); Fabra, High Court refuses to extradite former Franco-era Civil Guard accused of torture, El Pais (In English) (April 25, 2014).

[2] The other living suspect and Spanish resident, Juan Antonio González Pacheco, alias Billy the Kid, also is opposing his extradition to Argentina. He is a former police inspector who faces 13 charges of torture.

[3] The other criminal case against Judge Garzón involving alleged corruption was dismissed as being barred by the statute of limitations.

[4] In March 2011 Garzon brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights challenging the legality of his criminal prosecution, conviction and sentence on his approving the prosecution’s bugging of communications between certain criminal defendants and their lawyers. This case apparently is still pending.

Spanish Court Refuses to Apply New Amendment to Spain’s Universal Jurisdiction Statute

On March 15th Spanish High Court Judge Pablo Ruz refused in two cases to apply Spain’s new amendment to its universal jurisdiction statute.[1] This is the subject of a report in Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais.

U.S. Detainees Case

One case has U.S. Government officials in its sights. It involves alleged torture by U.S. officials of five individuals from the moment of their initial detention in various countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gambia) and subsequent detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On March 15th Judge Ruz renewed his request to the U.S. Government for information about U.S. investigation of these cases.

The Judge concluded that under the new amendment “torture and war crimes cannot be pursued . . . because the target of the procedure is not a Spaniard or a resident of Spain.” These restrictions , however, are trumped by international treaties ratified by Spain–the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture–which force signatory countries to pursue crimes.

The new amendment also stipulates that crimes cannot be pursued in Spain if they are already being investigated by an international court or by the country where they were committed. This is why Judge Ruz is insisting on securing information from US authorities regarding the status of any investigation there.

Western Saharan Genocide Case

The other case involves claims of genocide against several members of the Moroccan military in connection with Western Sahara, a disputed territory that Morocco claims as its own.

Judge Ruz asserts that the court has jurisdiction because the alleged crimes were committed between November 1975 and February 1976 when Western Sahara was still a Spanish colony. Thus, the court concluded, the alleged crimes must be considered to have been committed on Spanish territory for legal purposes.

The Judge also says he has the power to keep open this investigation because it involves alleged genocide.

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[1] A prior post discussed the amendment added earlier this year to the universal jurisdiction statute while comments thereto talked about initial reaction to the amendment. Another post involved the court’s refusal to apply the new amendment in a case involving the Geneva Conventions while a subsequent post talked about the High Court’s following the new amendment in drug-trafficking cases.