MADRID (Reuters) - The Tibetan monk who caused friction between China and Spain by pushing a human rights complaint through Spanish courts, said on Tuesday he was disappointed Spain might water down a pioneering human rights laws that made his case possible.
But he said even if his case - which drew a sharp rebuke from China this week - is thrown out, it has helped to draw international attention to the Tibetan cause.
“The Chinese government is putting a lot of pressure on the Spanish government to change laws, and the Spanish government is saying ‘yes, yes sir,’ but the Chinese don’t own the world,” Thubten Wangchen told Reuters in an interview in Spanish in Madrid.
Thubten Wangchen, a Spanish citizen and a member of the Tibetan-Parliament-in-Exile, brought a case in Spanish court in 2006 accusing former Chinese official of genocide, torture and crimes against humanity.
Other parties in the case are the Barcelona-based cultural and rights organization Tibet House Foundation, of which Wangchen is the director, and another Tibetan support group.
On Monday a Spanish judge who is in charge of Wangchen’s case issued arrest orders for Chinese ex-President Jiang Zemin, ex-Prime Minister Li Peng and three other former officials. Chinese troops took control of Tibet in 1950.
China called the judge’s arrest order a “mistaken action” and said the development of healthy ties with Spain was dependent on the government appropriately dealing with the issue.
“The Chinese government says that Spain is meddling. But China is also meddling, giving advice to (Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy,” said Thubten Wangchen, born in Tibet in 1954, but exiled with his family when he was five years old.
He has lived in Spain 32 years and is a Spanish citizen, but he still wears his one-armed red-and-yellow monk’s tunic.
China “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1950 and considers it an integral part of the nation.
Human rights groups say the Chinese have repressed Tibetan language, religion and culture.
China strongly denies the charges and says it has selflessly developed what was a poor and backward region.
On Tuesday it appeared that Spain may soon appease China and other countries that have been irritated over international human rights cases prosecuted in Spanish courts.
Parliament was taking the first steps on Tuesday to modify Spain’s law on universal jurisdiction - the principal that major crimes such as crimes against humanity, torture and genocide can be prosecuted across borders.
The ruling center-right People’s Party has proposed the changes and has an absolute majority in Parliament.
Thubten Wangchen, who lives in Barcelona, was in Madrid to lobby lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate on the issue.
A leading lawyer from the ruling center-right People’s Party told Reuters the party did not have any particular case in mind in its proposed reform of the laws.
Under the proposed changes it would be more difficult for judges to pursue human rights violations committed by non-Spaniards and outside Spain.
The monk said Spain’s recognition of universal jurisdiction was a matter of pride for Spaniards internationally.
“The Spanish government should be a little ashamed... This doesn’t affect only Tibet. It affects Guatemala, Guantanamo and (Jose) Couso’s family,” he said, referring to other well-known cases that have been investigated in Spain and that involve alleged rights abuses in other countries.
Couso was a Spanish cameraman killed by U.S. troops during the invasion of Iraq.
Thubten Wangchen says he has not returned to Tibet since 1987 and doesn’t call his family because he fears they could suffer repercussions if he does.
He said his mother was among victims of abuse by Chinese authorities, but did not provide details.
He said whatever the outcome of the case, it has helped to keep the Tibetan cause alive in the international media.
“We haven’t lost hope. There are rumors that the new Chinese President (Xi Jinping) is more open. We hope there can be a bit of change for Tibet. Independence is impossible, but we are seeking more autonomy and freedom,” said Thubten Wangchen, one of six Tibetan monks living in Spain.
Edited by Fiona Ortiz/Jeremy Gaunt