Spanish Arrest Warrants for Former Chinese Leaders 'Hard to Implement'

tibet-spain-2013.gif Pro-Tibetan protesters attend a demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in Barcelona to demand human rights and freedom in Tibet and dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing, May 17, 2013.

A Spanish High Court judge's international orders for the arrest of former Chinese leaders on suspicion of presiding over genocide in Tibet will be hard to implement but will serve to draw attention to the plight of Tibetans, analysts said on Tuesday.

Spanish High Court Judge Ismael Moreno on Monday ordered Interpol to issue warrants for the arrest of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, ex-Prime Minister Li Peng, and others, after a case against Chinese leaders was brought by human rights groups.

Spanish courts have previously operated under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows crimes against humanity to be prosecuted across borders and which was used in the 1998 arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.

According to Moreno's ruling, Jiang "exercised supervisory authority" over the people who directly committed abuses.

"[This] makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet," Moreno wrote in a ruling ordering Interpol to issue an order for the capture and imprisonment of Jiang for genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity.

Similar orders were made for Li Peng and other Chinese officials in charge during the 1980s and 1990s.

International attention

Cai Yongmei, editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Kaifang, said that while Beijing would ensure that none of its former leaders faced trial, the announcement had succeeded in drawing international media attention to the cause of Tibetans.

"At the very least, this action by Spain has really highlighted human rights problems with the Chinese Communist Party's rule in Tibet," Cai said.

"In reality, it will be very hard to implement, although it will be very effective ... at a symbolic level."

China has repeatedly hit out at the cases, calling them "absurd," while foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on Madrid last Friday to prevent further such lawsuits targeting alleged rights abuses in China.

But lawyers, rights groups, and Tibetans welcomed the move.

Kalsang, an MP in the Tibetan parliament-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, said the court ruling was an expression of support for the Tibetan cause.

"I hope that this expression of support will gain the attention of the international community," he said.

"This will send the message to this dictatorial regime that it can't do exactly what it wants; that there is some risk involved for them."

'Brutal repression'

And José Elías Esteve Moltó, a leading lawyer on the cases, told the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) that the team wouldn't rest until those responsible for "brutal repression" in the Himalayan region were brought to justice.

"Judge Moreno's ruling ... means we have kept our promise to the Tibetan victims and their families," leading lawyer on the cases

He said the cases had highlighted "red lines that should never have been crossed in international politics with respect to Tibet and China."

Alan Cantos, who has brought the cases on behalf of rights group Comite de Apoyo Al Tibet (CAT), hailed the move as an important victory for Tibetans.

The Spanish parliament on Tuesday debated a law that would seek to restrict the power of Spanish courts to bring similar cases in future, however.

Pursuit unlikely

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the ruling had highlighted how unlikely it was that Chinese courts would ever move against party leaders within China.

"It is really good that the Spanish court has done this," Hu said. "I think that perhaps those for whom arrest orders have been issued may not dare to go to Spain in future."

"But a court would never accept a case that tried to pursue any of them," he added.

Cai said the case would also hurt China's efforts to project its cultural "soft power" overseas with the Confucius Institutes and public relations campaigns.

"This obviously upsets their attempts to whitewash things, otherwise there wouldn't have been such a reaction [from Beijing]."

Spain's ruling People's Party is pushing a reform of the country's recognition of the principle of universal jurisdiction that could restrict the capacity of judges to act beyond the country's borders.

Communist Chinese troops took control of Tibet in 1950. China says it "peacefully liberated" the Himalayan region it says was mired in poverty, exploitation, and economic stagnation.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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