Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Spain probes Iranian killings in Ashraf camp - Iraq

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish judge has asked Iraq if it is investigating a melee in which Iraqi security forces are accused of killing 11 members of an Iranian exile group — a first step toward a possible probe by the judge himself.

Judge Fernando Andreu is acting under Spain's universal justice doctrine, which allows grave crimes alleged to have been committed in other countries to be prosecuted here, so long as certain conditions are met. Andreu made the request in an order released this week and obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

One such condition is that the country where a crime allegedly took place not be holding — or already have carried out — an investigation of its own.

And although there is no link to Spain in this case — such a tie is a new condition set in a recent reform of the universal justice law — Spanish judges can still act if the crime violates an international treaty signed by Spain. Andreu says a Geneva Convention does apply, addressing the protection of civilians in war times.

This is the first universal justice case brought before the National Court since Parliament narrowed the scope of the law in October, amid criticism from Spain's allies that it was acting like a global gendarme.

Andrew is acting on a complaint filed by human rights lawyers in Spain representing members of the Iranian exile group, the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran. There is no deadline for the Iraqi government to respond to Andreu's query.

In Baghdad, Iraqi justice officials did not respond to calls for comment on the Spanish request.

The attack by Iraqi troops and riot police took place July 28 in Camp Ashraf, the base of the Iranian opposition group. Eleven Iranian exiles were killed: either shot, beaten or run over by military vehicles, and 36 were arrested, according to members of the group.

Throughout the confrontation, American soldiers who once protected the Iranian opposition group stood by. According to U.S officials, they had no legal authority to intervene.

The U.S. military guarded the camp since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, under an agreement that made its 3,400 residents "protected persons" under the Geneva Convention. The military stopped observing the agreement after a new security accord with the Baghdad government took effect in January.

Spanish prosecutors have argued that this country lacks jurisdiction because there is no relevant link to Spain — such as Spaniards among the victims or the physical presence in Spain of the alleged perpetrators of the crime. They also argued that Iraq has intervened on behalf of the 36 people taken away from the camp, and that a probe already has been requested — by Amnesty International.

But Andreu rejected the prosecutors' request that he drop the case.

He noted that Spain signed the Geneva Convention on protected persons in 1977 and is thus obligated to go after and prosecute people accused of violating it "no matter what their nationality."

Spain's observance of the concept of universal justice became famous in 1998 when Judge Baltasar Garzon had former Chilean ruler Augusto Pinochet arrested in London and sought, ultimately in vain, to put him on trial in Madrid on charges of torture, terrorism and other offenses during his dictatorship.


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