A Small Step Forward in the Guatemala Genocide Case

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Monday, September 1, 2003
Quirine A.M. Eijkman
Recently the Spanish supreme court ruled that lower courts may exercise universal jurisdiction to investigate acts of torture committed during the Guatemalan civil war between 1976 and 1984. It is a step forward for the Guatemala Genocide case, because the appeal against an earlier judgment, which had declined jurisdiction, was successful. Thus part of the complaint that accuses former officials of the military regime of acts of torture and genocide, can now be investigated. Nevertheless, since there is only jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed against Spaniards, Guatemalan victims are denied an opportunity to seek justice. It is a setback for the appellants including Rigoberta Menchú Tum, who argue that the Spanish legal system recognizes universal jurisdiction and should therefore also investigate the genocide of the indigenous Maya people. International customary law and other general principles of law recognize that national courts can exercise jurisdiction for serious crimes such as genocide and torture committed irrespective of who committed the crime and where it occurred … [more]