Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-SPAIN: Debate Over Investigation of Civil War Victims

Tito Drago

MADRID, Sep 2 2008 (IPS) - Internationally renowned Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón unleashed a heated debate in Spain by ordering the authorities to provide information on human rights crimes committed in the 1936-1939 civil war and the subsequent 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

He will study the information in order to decide whether the National Court has jurisdiction to investigate complaints presented last year by victims’ associations.

Discreet support for the resolution was expressed Tuesday by members of the administration of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. However, the move drew fierce criticism from the main opposition force, the centre-right Popular Party (PP).

In dispute is whether the 1977 amnesty law and the Law on Historical Memory, passed last year, closed the issue once and for all, as the PP argues, or whether there are still aspects that can be clarified by the courts.

Lawyer Francisca Sauquillo, a socialist lawmaker in the European Parliament, told IPS that although the 2007 law does not allow new trials to be opened on political questions, it cannot stand in the way of investigations on "crimes against humanity."

Under both national and international law, no amnesty can apply to crimes against humanity, said Sauquillo, the founder and president of the Movement for Peace, Disarmament and Liberty (MPDL), which emerged during, and in opposition to, the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship.

Garzón’s resolution is aimed at gathering information in order to determine whether or not the human rights violations in question can be classified as crimes against humanity, said Sauquillo.

She argued that the judge’s plan is only logical, given that there is no list of names of the tens of thousands of victims of the civil war and the dictatorship.

The judge’s decision was prompted by complaints filed on Jul. 18, 2007, the 71st anniversary of the coup d’etat in which Franco overthrew Spain’s Republican government, by the associations for the recovery of the historical memory in the regions of Catalonia, Andalusia and Mallorca.

These associations have collected oral and written testimonies about the victims of the Franco regime, and have investigated unmarked mass graves into which victims’ bodies were dumped.

The president of the Catalonian association, Manuel Perona, said that "after 70 years of waiting, we now have hope that justice will be done on behalf of thousands of people who continue to demand to know the whereabouts of their family members."

Paqui Maqueda, vice president of the Andalusian victims’ association, also said she hoped that the cases would finally be opened.

Margalida Capellá, a lawyer who belongs to the Mallorca association, told IPS that the civil registers contain death records for victims of forced disappearance. She said her organisation’s investigation of civil registers has turned up records on 198 deaths and 400 disappearances.

On Monday night, Garzón ordered municipalities, parish churches and war cemeteries to provide him with information on victims of the Franco regime.

The spokesman for Spain’s Catholic bishops’ conference told IPS that he had not yet received any request, and thus declined to make a pronouncement on the issue.

Anselmo Álvarez, abbot of the Valle de los Caídos, told the press that 34,000 people are buried in the cemetery there, all of whom were killed in the war. He added that when he received Garzón’s request, he would study it and decide what to do.

On the other hand, prompt offers of cooperation came from the municipal authorities in two large cities in Andalusia in the south: Granada and Córdoba. In the former, Mayor José Torres Hurtado and the rector of the University of Granada, Francisco González Lodeiro, both stated that they would provide the information requested, although they clarified that they did not believe they had much to offer.

González Lodeiro also said he did not understand why Garzón only asked for information from his university, since there "are other universities, like the Complutense or the universities of Salamanca and Oviedo, where professors were also shot and killed."

The associations that presented the legal complaints said that some 2,400 people were shot and killed in the San José cemetery in Granada during the Franco regime and buried there in mass graves.

Córdoba Mayor Rosa Aguilar of the United Left (IU) coalition said her government would cooperate with Garzón to give answers to people who are seeking the remains of their loved ones, in order to give them a proper burial, so that they can "rest in peace."

But Garzón has challenges to overcome. In February, the public prosecutor’s office cited the 1977 amnesty law to request that the complaints brought by the associations be dismissed.

A spokesman for the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), Juan Pablo González, said it is not within the competence of Judge Garzón to carry out "historical investigations" or draw up a census of those killed in the civil war.

Another CGPJ spokesman, José Luis Requero, described what Garzón is doing as a "judicial show."

Even Judges for Democracy (JpD), which has a reputation as a progressive association, criticised Garzón, who is internationally renowned for his attempts to bring former military leaders of Latin American dictatorships to justice, including Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), whose extradition to Spain he unsuccessfully sought.

JpD spokesman Miguel Ángel Jimeno said that before he can undertake legal action, Garzón must be looking at a crime to which no amnesty or statute of limitation applies, committed by an individual who can be identified, in order to find out who was guilty, and that for now these conditions do not exist.

Garzón also drew criticism from the press. The director of the Madrid newspaper El Mundo, Pedro Ramírez, wrote in his Tuesday editorial that Garzón "is not seeking to do justice but to use it for his own personal ends."

However, Garzón received support from other quarters. The council of National Court judges defended his "professional integrity" and announced that it would ask the CGPJ to make "an express pronouncement" with respect to the "unfair and arbitrary opinions" expressed by the newspaper, one of Spain’s two leading papers.

In the judges’ view, El Mundo’s criticism went beyond the bounds of what is permissible in terms of questioning judicial resolutions, and also called into question "the professional integrity of magistrate Baltasar Garzón."

PP president Mariano Rajoy said he did not agree with "opening the wounds of the past," and argued that digging around in the past "will not lead to anything, no matter who does it."

But in the governing Socialist Party, both Zapatero and other leaders said they respected and would continue to respect the decisions of the judiciary.

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