Wednesday, February 1, 2012


The Spanish High Court judge, Baltasar Garzón, is internationally known because of his attempts to bring the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to face justice, which were largely thwarted by Margaret Thatcher. However in Spain he has made a career of investigating the cases corrupt politicians and those on the far right would wish to remain covered up.

Hence on Tuesday Garzón stepped into the dock of the Supreme Court charged with investigating the violation of human rights committed during the Civil War and Franco dictatorship. This case has the legal world in outrage as well as human rights groups. How can a judge be tried for investigating crimes against humanity? The far right groups including ‘Manos Limpias – Clean Hands’ who brought the case against Garzón would argue: because he has gone against Spain’s Amnesty Law introduced in 1977.

Amnesty International has labelled Garzón trail as “scandalous”. The internationally respected organization issued a statement before the judge was due to enter the dock on Tuesday. He is accused of obstructing justice by opening an investigation into the crimes of the Franco era and to determine who was responsible for them. If found guilty he faces being banned from office for 20 years effectively ending his judicial career.

The human rights organisation is not alone in its support for Garzón. Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists and the Asociación por la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, have called press conferences to voice their outrage and backing for the judge for the morning when his trial opened.

Amnesty International has spoken out over Judge Baltasar Garzón being placed on trial for seeking justice, the truth and justice for the victims and their families of a massive violation of human rights. It also defends his investigation of the abuse of human rights and says to do so is an international obligation for Spain.

The judge stands accused because he investigated in the High Court the forced disappearance of 114,266 people between July 1936 and December 1951. His right wing action group accusers say he has gone against the provisions of the Amnesty Law passed in 1977. However Amnesty International dismisses this as irrelevant adding whether he infringed the law or not Spain has a duty under international law to uncover the truth of those years. A leading QC I consulted agrees: international has precedence over Spanish law.

The federal co-ordinator of Izquierda Unida, Cayo Lara, attended a protest organised by the Plataforma de Apoyo a Garzón outside the Supreme Court in Madrid as the trial got underway. He told the crowd if the judge is found guilty it will “be a stain on Spanish justice.”

Lara continued: “All international justice has its eyes on what is happening here and they are perplexed because they can’t understand that when other countries have investigated their crimes in their own dictatorships they have resolved them from a democratic point of view – yet in Spain we have these terms and conditions and the person who is in the dock is the one who had the courage to investigate.”

Expressing the views of many Spaniards, especially those of the centre and far left, Lara said the Supreme Court should remember that over 130,000 people are still lying in the gutters of Spain in unmarked graves. He added: “they should judge these crimes rather than the judge so that one day we can have a quality democracy.” Lara concluded: “Black has to become light so clear and sharp and has to defend truth, justice and reparation for the victims.”

The opening day of the trial reached the stage of a judicial farce when the State prosecutor sided with the defence and called for the charges against Garzón to be thrown out. Respected public prosecutor Luis Navajas told the court: “We agree with the arguments put forward by the defence. We ask that the trial be shelved.”

The Supreme Court has adjourned to Tuesday January 31 when it will rule on the petition to have the case dismissed. If it rejects the application Judge Baltasar Garzón is due to give evidence on that day but it will be Spanish justice that is on trial.

(The above article appeared in Panorama (Gibraltar) on Friday January 27 and in the Morning Star on Wednesday February 1 2012)