Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spanish judge to open inquest into suspected atrocities against North African Saharawi people

Spanish judge to open inquest into suspected atrocities against North African Saharawi people

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

MADRID, Spain: A leading Spanish anti-terrorism judge is to open an inquest into suspected atrocities committed against North African Saharawi people, a court statement said Tuesday.

The offenses, which include genocide, assassination, injury and torture, are believed to have taken place in the mid-1970s, when Spain withdrew from its former colony of Western Sahara, a statement by National Court judge Baltasar Garzon said.

Spain abandoned the territory following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and Morocco then invaded.

"An attempt at genocide did happen and this inquest is important because the Saharawi people ask for justice," said Mohamed Sidati, Polisario Front Minister-Delegate for Europe. The Polisario Front supports self-determination for the Saharawi people.

Garzon is to probe whether sufficient evidence exists to prosecute 13 Moroccan citizens suspected of having carried out crimes during and after the territorial annexation.

"It's time the Saharawi people's fate was finally talked about," said Jose Taboada, a support group spokesman.

Spain's so-called universal justice principle — established by the National Court in 1998 — allows courts here the legal right to prosecute crimes alleged to have been committed in other countries.

Garzon used it in a vain attempt to try former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for genocide and other crimes in his country. Britain, which had arrested Pinochet in London on a Spanish warrant, declined to extradite Pinochet, citing his poor health.

The principle, part of a growing body of international law, also underpinned a trial in Madrid that convicted Imad Yarkas, a suspected al-Qaida cell leader.

Yarkas was sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiracy and heading a terrorist organization linked with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Garzon has called witnesses to begin giving evidence on Dec. 11-12, the statement said.

Several previous inquests into suspected crimes against the Saharawi people have been shelved for lack of evidence said Maria Jose Fisac, a lawyer linked to Saharawi legal cases.

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