Spanish judge to probe Iraq refugee camp killings - lawyer
Madrid (AFP) Jan 4, 2011
A Spanish judge will probe a raid by Iraqi police and soldiers on a camp for Iranian refugees in July 2009 that killed 11 people, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said Tuesday.
A Spanish National Court ruling in favour of the investigation, which was issued December 27, became effective Tuesday following a five-day waiting period for possible appeals, said the lawyer for family members of the victims.
National Court judge Fernando Andreu ordered Major General Abdul Hussein al-Shemmari, the police chief of Diyala province, to appear before the court on March 8 as the first step of the probe, according to a court writ sent to AFP by the lawyer, Juan Garces.
Andreu took the action under a legal doctrine in Spain known as "universal jurisdiction" which allows human rights crimes to be tried outside the country where they allegedly took place.
Spain in October 2009 approved a law limiting the application of the doctrine to cases where there is a clear link to Spain, after investigations into alleged human rights abuses involving other nations like China and Israel caused diplomatic headaches for Madrid.
But judges can still open investigations if the crime violates an international treaty signed by Spain, and Andreu argued that in this case the alleged crimes may be a violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the humanitarian protection of civilians in war zones which Madrid has signed.
Al-Shemmari is accused of directing the attack at Camp Ashraf, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Iranian border, which houses supporters of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), the Islamic republic's main exiled opposition.
"This is the first time that an Iraqi official is being summoned before a court for serious violations of international law," said Garces.
The complaint for crimes against humanity filed by human rights lawyers in Spain representing relatives of the victims alleges that Iraqi police and soldiers shot and beat unarmed residents of the camp in an attempt to clear the terrain and build a police station there.
Iraqi authorities blamed the violence on rioting by the refugees. They say the exiles threw stones and Molotov cocktails when Iraqi forces entered the camp.
Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein welcomed the exiles to Iraq during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war and they have lived at the camp ever since.
Al-Shemmari denies any involvement in the raid. He said the force which entered the camp came from Baghdad.
"After they entered the camp, they asked Diyala police to establish a police station in the camp, and this is what we did. I wonder why the complaint is against me. I have nothing to do with what happened there," he told AFP in Iraq.
The judge had said he would close the dossier if Iraqi authorities opened their own investigation into the deaths at the camp.
Iraq's foreign ministry informed Spanish authorities that it had carried out a legal investigation into the killings but Andreu rejected this response, arguing there was not enough evidence that a proper probe was being carried out.
In the court writ Andreu said Iraq did "not report what authority is conducting such an investigation, or the date it started, or that steps that may have been taken in this regard, or the outcome, if any."
The People's Mujahedeen of Iran welcomed the decision in a statement received by AFP in Baghdad.
"This represents the validity and legitimacy of the continuous demands expressed by residents of Ashraf, and other international authorities regarding the necessity of referring Ashraf's dossier to an unbiased international legal authority such as the Spain court and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Committee," the statement said.
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Athens, Greece (UPI) Jan 4, 2011
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