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Spanish judge issues arrest warrants for China's former President, Prime Minister

By Al Goodman, CNN
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 0924 GMT (1724 HKT)
[File photo] Former President of China Jiang Zemin (left) and former PM Li Peng in Beijing on 17 March (year unknown).
[File photo] Former President of China Jiang Zemin (left) and former PM Li Peng in Beijing on 17 March (year unknown).
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former President Jiang Zemin, former Prime Minister Li Peng are accused of genocide
  • Warrants against them and three other officials are the latest in a suit by pro-Tibetan groups
  • Tibet Support Committee chief: There's a chance they'll be arrested if they go abroad
  • Warrants come just before Spain debates seeking justice for foreign human rights abuses

Madrid (CNN) -- A Spanish judge issued international arrest warrants Monday for China's former President Jiang Zemin and former Prime Minister Li Peng for alleged genocide against the people of Tibet, Spain's National Court in Madrid said.

The warrants against them and three other senior Chinese officials are the latest chapter in a long-running lawsuit by pro-Tibetan groups and a dual Tibetan-Spanish citizen who seek international legal action against some Chinese officials.

Judge Ismael Moreno issued the arrest warrants for alleged "genocide, torture and crimes against humanity," and ordered them to be sent to Interpol, the international police agency, according to a copy of the order viewed by CNN.

The former officials will surely not be arrested in China, but there's a "medium chance" of them being arrested if they go abroad, "depending on the country and its ethics," said Alan Cantos, president of the Barcelona-based Tibet Support Committee.

Cantos expressed satisfaction with the judge's order, which his group has been pushing with its co-plaintiffs: the House of Tibet Foundation and Thubten Wangchen Sherpa Sherpa, a Tibetan who has lived in Spain for about 20 years and has Spanish citizenship.

"It shows that justice after all works, against all odds. If you let justice work, victims can have retribution," Cantos said.

The arrest warrants came on the eve of a debate in Spanish parliament, on Tuesday, that reportedly could restrict the use of the universal justice principle in Spanish courts. It holds that if human rights abuses aren't addressed in the country where they occurred, a separate country -- in this case, Spain -- has the right to seek legal action.

Spanish courts have applied the principle in trying to seek justice for abuses committed under some former Latin American military regimes, but some foreign governments have complained about Spanish courts meddling in their affairs.

Repeated phone calls to the Chinese Embassy in Madrid went unanswered.

On Tuesday, Hua Chunying, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said that Beijing was "strongly dissatisfied" and "firmly opposed to the erroneous acts" taken by Spanish agencies.

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