The trial of Baltasar Garzón is very sinister.
Observers from the world’s main human rights groups are in Madrid to monitor the second trial of the Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who is accused of abusing his position by opening an investigation into the deaths of 114,000 people during the Franco dictatorship.
Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission of Jurists (IJC) have all sent observers amid concerns that Garzón is being targeted because of his innovative use of international human rights laws.
Reed Brody, of HRW, warned that judges in less developed countries were also watching nervously to see whether the developed world was happy to accept that limits be put on human rights investigations.
“This is the first time that an established democracy has tried a judge for investigating human rights abuses and applying international law,” he added.
Brody pointed to the importance of Garzón’s investigations of human rights abuses committed by the regime of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and by Argentina’s military juntas in pushing forward the global reach of human rights laws.
Garzón’s investigations had helped persuade judges in Latin America to strike out amnesty laws and put dictators and their henchmen on trial, he added, saying: “Will Franco’s victims now have fewer rights than Pinochet’s victims?”
Pedro Nikken, of the IJC, said Garzón had been right to ignore Spain’s own 1977 amnesty law when investigating Francoist repression. “International human rights law comes into play when national laws do not provide enough protection,” he said. “A judge is obliged to take that into account.”
HRW called on Spain to ditch the 1977 law in March 2010.
Spanish authorities should abide by the United Nations call for an end to its 1977 amnesty law rather than prosecuting a judge seeking accountability for past abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
Judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain’s National Audience tribunal is currently under criminal investigation for looking into 22 alleged cases of illegal detention and forced disappearances involving more than 100,000 victims, committed between 1936 and 1951. Spanish courts have routinely closed investigations into abuses committed during the country’s civil war (1936-1939) and the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1939-1975) by invoking a 1977 amnesty law, which covers all crimes “of a political nature” committed prior to December 1976. The case against Garzón is based, among other factors, on the judge arguing that the amnesty law did not apply to crimes against humanity.
Under international law, governments have an obligation to provide victims of human rights abuses with an effective remedy – including justice, truth, and adequate reparations – after they suffer a violation. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Spain ratified in 1977, specifically states that governments have an obligation “to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms … are violated shall have an effective remedy.”
In 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee, in charge of monitoring compliance with the ICCPR, called on Spain to repeal the 1977 amnesty law and to ensure that domestic courts do not apply limitation periods to crimes against humanity. The European Court of Human Rights held in 2009, as a general principle, that an amnesty law is generally incompatible with states’ duty to investigate acts of torture or barbarity.
Human Rights Watch praised Garzón’s work in achieving accountability for atrocities around the world. Applying the principle of universal jurisdiction, Garzón issued an historic indictment against Chilean General Augusto Pinochet for the murder and torture of thousands, which led to Pinochet’s detention in London in 1998. His arrest was critical in prompting the Chilean justice system to prosecute past abuses. Garzón’s request to Mexico led to the extradition of Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, a former military official from Argentina implicated in atrocities during the country’s military dictatorship. Cavallo was extradited to Spain in 2003 on charges of genocide and terrorism, and was eventually sent to Argentina to be tried by Argentine courts.