Baltasar Garzon Cleared over his Franco-era Crimes Inquiry
Disbarred Spanish judge escapes second conviction, but court
declares he was wrong to investigate deaths under
by Giles Tremlett in Madrid
February 27, 2012
Baltasar Garzon has been cleared over his investigation into
The celebrated Spanish human rights investigator Baltasar
Garzon escaped a second conviction for abuse of his powers
on Monday when the supreme court declared him not guilty in
a case involving his investigation of crimes committed under
the Franco dictatorship.
The decision came too late to save Garzon's career as an
investigating magistrate as the the supreme court had
already disbarred him in a separate case for wiretapping
conversations between defence lawyers and their clients in a
corruption investigation involving the prime minister,
Mariano Rajoy's People's party.
Victims of systematic repression by Franco's iron-fisted
regime emerged as the biggest losers in Monday's case,
however, with the court upholding Spain's controversial
amnesty laws and declaring that Garzon had still been wrong
to open an investigation into the deaths of 114,000 people.
International human rights groups reacted angrily, saying
that the decision ensured impunity for Franco's henchmen and
left his victims unable to demand justice.
The verdict means Garzon has been found guilty in only one
of three cases brought against him, but campaigners still
point to the extraordinary nature of these cases, with no
investigating magistrate ever having been pursued by his
fellow judges on three separate charges before.
"The supreme court has spared itself further embarrassment
by dropping these ill-advised charges," Reed Brody of Human
Rights Watch said.
"Investigating torture and 'disappearances' cannot be
considered a crime. Spain should now repeal the 1977 amnesty
law, as requested by the United Nations, and assist the
families of Franco's victims in their long quest for truth
Brody said, however, that the damage had already been done
with Garzon's previous conviction. "Garzon will not return
as a judge, but he is not the real loser," he added. "The
real losers are the reputation of the Spanish judiciary and
those ? in Spain, in detention at Guantanamo, or in
countries around the world where there is no justice ? who
knew they could count on at least one independent judge to
apply human rights laws without fear of the political
Six of the seven supreme court judges on the panel that
heard Garzon's case declared him not guilty, with one in
favour of a guilty verdict.
The judges argued that Garzon had been within his rights to
test out new interpretations of what they called "expansive"
international human rights laws, saying that these were
gaining extra strength around the world.
But they also attacked his interpretation, saying he had
been wrong to open the investigation. Spain's 1977 amnesty
law remained valid, they added, even though courts in other
countries have declared such amnesties against international
human rights law.
The judges launched an impassioned defence of the amnesty
law, which was described as one of the key elements of
Spain's peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy
after General Franco's death in 1975.
They also rejected Garzon's argument that, where people had
simply been "disappeared", a crime of continuous kidnapping
was still being carried out which would not be covered by
either the amnesty law or a statute of limitations.
They argued that it was not the court's job to pursue the
"historic truth" about the past, while recognising that many
events during and, especially, after the Spanish civil war
would nowadays be classified as crimes against humanity.
Amnesty International repeated its demand for Spain to set
aside both the amnesty law and its statute of limitations on
such crimes, saying the ruling prevented victims from
"It is a scandal that Spain has not yet tackled its dark
past," said Amnesty's Marek Marczynski. "What we want to see
next is a full investigation into the catalogue of abuses
that took place during the civil war and Franco's regime.
There must be no impunity in Spain for these most horrible
The case had been brought as a private prosecution by a far-
right lobby group that accused Garzon of willfully flouting
Spain's amnesty law when he opened an investigation into the
death or disappearance of 114,000 Franco victims.
That investigation, which was later passed on to provincial
courts, named three dozen senior Francoist officials, all of
whom were dead.
The UN human rights office said earlier this month that
Spain must investigate crimes against humanity committed
during the Franco era and must repeal its amnesty for
perpetrators as there was no statute of limitations for such
Garzon has said he will challenge the verdict against him in
the wiretapping case in Spain's constitutional court.
Garzon was suspended in 2010 after first being indicted in
the Franco case. He then took a six-month job in The Hague
at the international criminal court as an adviser to its
He later accepted a position as a human rights adviser to
the government of Colombia, which is fighting leftist rebels
and powerful drug lords.
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