Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Tibet Group Brings Genocide Case Against China

MADRID (Reuters) - A Tibetan group presented a criminal case against top Chinese officials for genocide and crimes against humanity on Tuesday, seeking to take advantage of Spain's laws on international human rights crimes.

The case, which the Committee for the Support of Tibet says is the first of its kind, accuses senior Chinese officials including former president Jiang Zemin and former prime minister Li Peng of authorising massacres and torture in Tibet.

Spain's High Court must now decide whether to assign a judge to the case, who could call for Chinese authorities to arrest those accused and even impound their property.

"The Chinese tortured me and many of my friends in Tibet," said Buddhist monk Palden Gyatso, who said his teeth were knocked out in beatings during 33 years in prison. "For me, this is a great day because we can present a case against China."

Communist China sent troops to Tibet to impose its rule in 1950. Tibet's Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India nine years later after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

"Many countries are more concerned by business opportunities in China and so they silence the human rights situation in Tibet," prosecution lawyer Jose Elias Esteve told reporters outside the High Court, flanked by three Tibetan monks.

"There is more attention for terrorist acts in the press while the peaceful struggle of the Tibetans, who have demanded their rights for 50 years, has had absolutely no success," he added.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Madrid were not available for comment.

Spanish judges have taken a leading role in prosecuting international human rights crimes. In April, the High Court sentenced an Argentine former navy captain to 640 years in prison for crimes against humanity during his country's 1976-1983 "dirty war" against leftists.

At the time, the court asserted powers to try suspects for genocide, terrorism or torture committed anywhere in the world if Spanish victims were involved.

"The precedents in Spain make it a good place to hear the case as China does not recognise international courts and Chinese courts are subject to the Communist party," said Esteve.

While it was not strictly necessary for Spanish citizens to be affected for the High Court to try the case under the principle of "universal justice", Esteve said, one of the Tibetan monks presenting the case held Spanish nationality.

"I was born in Tibet and was only four when the Chinese invaded," said Thubten Wangchen, who lives in Barcelona. "The Chinese killed 1.2 million citizens, including my mother ... All my life I have lived as an exile."

A judicial source said the High Court was unlikely to accept the case without evidence of some Spanish involvement.

The Dalai Lama, who leads a Tibetan government-in-exile in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala, is seeking greater autonomy for Tibet although he does not advocate full independence from China. Beijing refuses to allow him to return.
By Daniel Flynn; Tue Jun 28, 2005 09:22 AM ET