Judge Baltasar Garzon is on trial in Spain, accused by two right-wing groups of breaking a 1977 amnesty by investigating the deaths or disappearances of more than 100,000 civilians in the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship.
The defence and Spanish government prosecutors have said that the case against him should be thrown out. Yet under Spanish law, private citizens can pursue charges even if prosecutors disagree.
His conservative critics say Garzon is more interested in fame than justice, but his supporters say it is a disgrace that Garzon is being tried like this.
Javier Moreno, a supporter, said: “It brings international shame on Spain that they are judging a judge who has investigated crimes against humanity in Spain. Unlike what happens in other places, like France or in Latin America, Guatemala and Argentina. It is shameful towards our democratic Spanish state.”
In addition to many Spaniards, Garzon also has Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists on his side. These organisations argue that the 1977 amnesty cannot come before international law on crimes against humanity.
The charges against the magistrate were brought by the right-wing organisations named ‘Liberty and Identity’ and ‘Clean Hands’.
Miguel Bernal, the head of the latter said: “He cannot appear before the national and international public as a victim. He is only a victim of his own misbehaviour – which has placed him in the dock.”
Some 20 associations of people who believe Franco’s forces killed their relatives will give evidence in Garzon’s defence. There are mass graves dating from the 1936-1939 Civil War that have not yet been dug up. Even after the dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975, fear of speaking out continued. The amnesty was enacted in Spain’s transition to democracy. Garzon got involved with the associations in 2006.
He had by then earned an international reputation for going after former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Reed Brody, spokesman for Amnesty International, said: “Judge Garzón changed the world. Thanks to judge Garzon, thanks to the arrest of Pinochet, walls of impunity came crashing down throughout the world and victims saw that they had the possibility to bring to justice people that seemed out of the reach of justice.”
Garzon invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction in getting a warrant for Pinochet’s arrest in 1998 while the Chilean was in London.
Garzon, today 56, won admiration in Spain for daring to investigate the Basque terrorist group ETA, and anti-ETA state hit squads – the GAL scandal.
Many feel that shedding light on wrongs done in Spain under Franco is long overdue.