Home > Expeditions & Adventures, General > Madrid Judge calls out Chinese authorities on Nangpa La and Tibet

Madrid Judge calls out Chinese authorities on Nangpa La and Tibet

A legal fight without precedent is developing between Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz and the Chinese authorities.

Spain’s High Court accepted two lawsuits filed by the magistrate accusing officials of Crimes against Humanity.

The case was raised under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terrorism, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Charges: March 2008 crackdown and Nangpa La

Pedraz’s fist lawsuit was issued in connection with the violent crackdown on protesters in Tibet back in March, 2008.

May 5, the Judge informed the Chinese Ministry of Justice of rulings in the Spanish High Court against eight Chinese leaders, including Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Zhang Qingli. The Judge requested authorization from the Chinese ministry to question the defendants in China, should they refuse to come before the Spanish court.

China ignored the call, and one month later Pedraz increased the pressure by issuing a second lawsuit, this time referring to the 2006 shootings at Nangpa La pass, when 17-year old nun Kelsang Namtso was shot dead by Chinese border patrol while attempting to cross Tibet’s border into exile.

Everest summiteer Luis Benitez testifying in Madrid

Pedraz further asked the Indian government for permission to travel to India in order to interview Tibetan witnesses of the shooting. American climber Luis Benitez who witnessed Kelsang Namtso being fatally shot in the back as she and other nuns, monks and children attempted to flee across the Nangpa Pass, gave evidence on July 17 to Judge Pedraz at Spain’s High Court.

China has responded with written statements rejecting the judicial request and demanding from the Spanish Government to dismish the subject as “false lawsuits.”

“The Chinese party firmly refuses any request for judicial assistance regarding this case, while demanding that Spain assumes her responsibilities regarding international law, adopts immediate and effective measures to prevent any violation of the Treaty on Judicial Assistance in Criminal Matters between China and Spain and puts a stop to said case as soon as possible,” the Chinese Embassy in Spain wrote, according to ICT.

Heroes or fame-seekers?

While Pedraz has support from Tibetan organizations in Spain (who first filed the lawsuits) and some legal associations, the Spanish government is cautious about some judges’ increasing actions in international justice.

A resolution passed by Spain’s Congress on May 19 said that judges’ jurisdiction should be limited to cases with a clear Spanish connection. The measure came after a number of Spanish judges got involved in several international issues.

Santiago Pedraz had previously issued lawsuits against leading officers of the former military dictatorship in Guatemala, and US officials involved in a 2003 Baghdad tank-shooting which impacted Hotel Palestina and killed cameraman Jose Couso. Locally, the judge struck up controversy involving Basque independentists and ETA supporters and his decisions have often been reverted by Spain’s High and Supreme courts.

Meanwhile, the public opinion is divided: many see lust for fame and notoriety in the Judge’s actions, and disagree on priority being given to “impossible” cases abroad over urgent, domestic issues. Others applaud Pedraz’s independent thinking, huge work capacity, and extended view of human rights.

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