Garzón on trial for investigating crimes against humanity

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.




  1. piero says

    Garzón is one of my heroes. I am Chilean, and Garzón was the judge who managed to obtain a restraint order for human rights violations against Augusto Pinochet while he was on an official visit to Britain. I’ve never felt so exhilarated in my life: after years of ruling the country like a feudal lord, he was now in trouble; real trouble, in a foreign country, powerless, humiliated, incapable of sending his death squads or instructing his suborned judges to take action. He was then just an old, uncultured, powerless, undignified old man. What a feeling!

    It is obvious that the former thugs, officials and supporters of Franco’s dictatorship are still capable of exerting power in Spain. It is imperative to organise an international campaign of vigilance and support.

  2. Mr.Kosta says

    As a Spaniard myself, I find this trial embarrassing, an insult and a afront to many families, like my own*, who had their loved ones forced to exile or even worse, buried in some unmarked grave.

    *My grandfather has to move to France, or he would have been sent to a firing squad.

  3. piero says

    Mr. Kosta:

    I’ll take the liberty of replying to you in English and in Spanish. In English because it would be impolite to write in a language few visitors know. And in Spanish because I feel your pain much as I fell my own.

    I think the indictmnet of Garzón is a disgrace for a modern democracy. It must be stopped. It must be hadline news in evry newspaper in the world. It is high time that Franco’s henchmen dispappeared from the public sphere, and if possible form the Earth. I’m not saying they should be murdered; but I am saying they should be dead.

    Mr. Kosta:
    Me tomaré la libertad de respoderte tanto en inglés como en español. En inglés porque sería signo de mala educación escribir en un idioma que pocos entre quienes visitan esta página conocen. Y en español porque siento tu dolor tan intensamente como el mío.

    Creo que las acusaciones contra garzón son una vergüenza para una democracia moderna. Hay que parar esto. Hay que hacer que aparezca en los titulares de todos los diarios del mundo. Ya es hora de que los esbirros de Franco desaparezcan del ámbito público y, en lo posible, de la superficie de la Tierra. No digo que haya que asesinarlos: solo digo que deberían estar muertos.

    Un chileno agradecido del Juez Garzón

  4. says

    piero – and not just in comparison to Pinochet. He stood up to howls of outrage and defended the principle of human rights over some bogus “he’s a guest in our country” bullshit. No wiggling, no apologizing.

  5. piero says

    Ophelia, I agree, of course. I tried to make a joke and I failed miserably. I need to polish my English. What I meant was that Pinochet was so despicable thay not only honourable people like Jack Straw, but even the likes of O’Reilly would shine in comparison.

  6. says

    As I see it, Jack Straw let Pinochet clear out of Britain on the dodgiest of ‘health’ justifications. He did that on the basis of evidence presented by Pinochet’s own medical team, and without independent scrutiny.

    Pinochet, ‘too sick’ to stand trial but not too sick to receive and converse with Margaret Thatcher, thus avoided a prison term for ‘crimes against humanity’. That is, violent military overthrow of a democratically elected government (Allende’s) and mass murder of its supporters.

    Pinochet’s 1973 coup was pretty well a replay of Franco’s 1936 attack on the democratically elected Republican government of Spain. Similar later ‘amnesties’ for the fascists were arranged in the course of restoring parliamentary democracy there too.

    An depressing feature of representative government the world over is the frequency with which antidemocratic types put themselves up as candidates and manage to get democratically elected.

    Thus there has been no deterrent value in international human rights law as it has actually worked in the Spanish and Chilean cases. Only if in the course of his crimes against humanity a dictator enrages a major power like the US (vide Saddam Hussein) has justice any hope of being done.

  7. Rrr says

    ISTR that the date of the Chile coup was September 11. This may or may not carry any significance. But with worshippers of fantasy one could probably not tell. Fascism is global and undead, indeed.

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