Spanish judge launches probe into Iraq refugee killings

Spanish National Court judge Fernando Andreu on Jan. 4 issued a writ to pursue an investigation against Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdol Hossein al-Shemmari for allegedly ordering a July 2009 strike against Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf in which 11 unarmed civilians were killed, 36 were detained and approximately 500 were injured. Most of the citizens of the camp are members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (MEK), the largest Iranian opposition organization, whose members are considered protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.

Although Spain has no discernible involvement in the situation, Andreu cited section 146 of the Geneva Conventions as the basis for his investigation. The probe will continue through the obligation of Geneva signatories to prosecute violations to the Geneva Conventions, despite Spain’s October 2009 passage of a law limiting its use of universal jurisdiction to cases involving Spanish citizens. The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims to have launched an investigation into the situation and criticized the Spanish courts for interfering with its authority, but Andreu found this investigation “insufficient.” Al-Shemmari’s summons is for March 8 in Madrid, but, as active duty military personnel, he may be unable to appear. If he does not appear, proceedings with continue without him.

Before the law was changed in October 2009, Spain allowed the exercise of universal jurisdiction over foreign torture, terrorism and war crimes if the case was not subject to the legal system of the country involved, regardless of its connection to Spain. In June 2009, human rights groups urged the Spanish government to continue the broad exercise of universal jurisdiction, while some countries, including Israel, argued for changes to the practice. Universal jurisdiction has been used by prominent Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon to bring several high-profile cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Investigations have also proceeded against Israeli actions in Gaza in 2002, detainee abuse at Guantánamo Bay and allegations of war crimes and genocide in Rwanda, Tibet, Guatemala and China.

From Jurist, Jan. 5. Used with permission.

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