EU Watch

Spanish Civil Society Working on Reviving Universal Jurisdiction

In recent years, Spain has experienced an almost complete elimination of Universal Jurisdiction. Civil Society groups are now working on reviving this.

by Pilar Eirene de Prada

Victims of serious crimes left in legal no man’s land

Organic Law 1/2014practically prevented people being prosecuted for the most serious international crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes — committed outside Spain, even if these crimes were committed against Spanish citizens. This has led to a massive closure of criminal cases under investigation at the National High Court, leaving the victims of the most serious human rights violations in a legal no man’s land.

In June, a motion of censure against the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy succeeded in removing the Popular Party from power, which had been gravely affected by claims of corruption. This allowed the Socialist Party to step into government.

Individuals and organisations come together to reverse loss of rights

One of the consequences of this political shift should be the immediate reversal of the serious regressions in terms of rights and freedoms and the recovery of all that was lost in the way, promptly launching the political and legislative procedures necessary to that end. This task should be undertaken with the active participation of all other political parties and democratic forces willing to carry out this change, together with civil society.

Organisations and individuals active in civil society who are particularly sensitive to universal jurisdiction as a tool in the struggle against impunity and in favour of victims of the most serious international crimes, regardless of where they were committed, have come together as a platform for its recovery in Spain, under the name Universal Justice NOW! Our goal is to obtain a legal reform that returns this fundamental tool in the struggle for human rights to society. However, we do not believe that any kind of reform will work.

What is needed for the right kind of reform?

For that reason, as members of Spain’s civil society, we want to express our opinion regarding the key points that should inspire such a reform, through a Declaration for the Recovery of Universal Jurisdiction in Spain, which are the following:

  • A clear distinction should be established between Universal Jurisdiction for the most serious international crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, aggression, torture, or enforced disappearance — and other forms of extraterritorial jurisdiction for other international crimes.
  • Universal Jurisdiction, thus recognised, should be unconditional and not subject to any link or connection with Spanish territory.
  • Likewise, other principles of extraterritorial action of Spanish jurisdiction should be strengthened, such as the protection of Spanish victims and European residents in our country who are victims of international crimes, which should work in parallel with universal jurisdiction for all victims.
  • There should also be broad recognition of the procedural legitimacy of victims’ right to protection against international crimes, in line with the European concept of victim (Directive 2012/29/EU and the Guidance Document for the transposition of the Directive).
  • International protection of new generation rights should be included, such as all forms of modern slavery and those related to the environment and ecocide, as well as international natural spaces whose protection regards all states.
  • Likewise, Universal Jurisdiction should be applied to economic and financial crimes, which, given their scope and scale, gravely affect human rights.
  • Effective extraterritorial prosecution of legal entities, whether parent firms or subsidiaries, with a Spanish address or that habitually operate in Spain, should be clearly established in both criminal and civil law.
  • The broadest possible legitimacy for the exercise of criminal actions should be sought, not only by the prosecuting authority, but also by the victims and in class action suits.
  • A specialized investigation unit for international crimes should be created at the prosecutor’s office, as is the case in other countries, which would be in charge of coordinating prosecutions and police action, as well as facilitating cooperation with other states in investigating and prosecuting international crimes.

The complete text of the Declaration of Civil Society for the Recovery of Universal Jurisdiction can be found on the website of Rights International Spain’s, which is one of the member organizations of the Platform, so that anyone interested can read and sign it. This will give a voice to the social outcry against impunity and for the right of all victims to justice and truth before the most serious crimes against human rights and humanitarian international law.