Spain court drops complaint against Syrian security forces

MADRID (Reuters) - A Spanish court on Friday dropped a criminal complaint brought against members of the Syrian security and intelligence forces by a woman seeking justice for her brother, ruling it lacked jurisdiction over the case.

The complaint was raised by a Spaniard who said her brother was arrested, tortured and executed in 2013 at a center in Damascus under the control of Syrian security forces.

The Spanish woman filed her case after identifying her brother from a cache of more than 50,000 photos smuggled out of the country by a Syrian forensics officer showing more than 6,000 people who had been tortured and mutilated.

A judge at the Madrid-based High Court agreed in March to investigate the lawsuit in March, the first case against Syrian security forces taken up overseas.

But a higher panel within the High Court ruled on Friday that the investigation should be dropped following an appeal by Spain’s state prosecutors.

The woman’s legal representatives, London-based Guernica 37, said they had not received any notification of the decision, but might lodge an appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court.

“This is a setback and we are of course disappointed, but this is just a step in the legal process. We remain confident in the strength of our case and the firm jurisdictional basis,” Guernica 37 said in a statement.

Under Spanish law, the examining magistrate investigates accusations brought in a criminal complaint before moving into a trial phase.

Spain was once a pioneer of “universal jurisdiction”, whereby judges could pursue criminal cases originating anywhere in the world. Spanish courts led investigations into human rights abuses in Argentina and Rwanda under this premise.

But the conservative government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy moved to curb these powers in 2014, arguing that they could cause diplomatic conflicts, and it passed the new limits through parliament.

Cases now must have a clear Spanish connection to proceed.

Reporting by Sarah White; writing by Paul Day; editing by Mark Heinrich