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SPAIN: Baltasar Garzon’s Trial Threatens “Universal Justice”

Tito Drago

MADRID, May 13 2010 (IPS) - The trial of Spain’s “superjudge” Baltasar Garzón is aimed at squelching the principle of universal justice by suspending its main advocate, Dolores Delgado, a prosecutor at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s highest criminal court, told IPS.

On Wednesday Supreme Court Justice Luciano Varela rejected an appeal by prosecutors, allowing the trial to go ahead, perhaps in two to three months. On Friday Garzón may be suspended from the Audiencia Nacional for up to 20 years.

Garzón is accused of overstepping his jurisdiction by starting to investigate atrocities committed during Spain’s 1936-1939 civil war and the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

The case was brought by far-right groups, which argue that his investigation into the forced disappearance of some 113,000 people during the Franco era violated the amnesty law passed by the Spanish parliament in 1977, two years after Franco’s death..

In response to legal action brought by the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory, which groups relatives of victims of forced disappearance, he ordered the exhumation of 19 unmarked mass graves around the country.

One of the graves is said to hold the body of poet Federico García Lorca, who was killed by pro-Franco forces in 1936 in the southern city of Granada.

The probe, launched in 2008, drew strong popular support, as well as harsh reactions from right-wing groups. However, the judge later transferred the investigations of mass graves and missing people to regional courts.

Early this week, Garzón said he intended to temporarily move to The Hague to work for seven months as an external adviser to International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, with whom he has participated in different panels and seminars on legal and human rights questions.

On Tuesday, he asked the General Council of the Judiciary, the judicial oversight board, for leave of absence, which was expected to be discussed on Monday, May 17.

But the oversight board, in response to seven conservatives who comprise a majority of its members, called a special session for Friday, to specifically decide whether to suspend Garzón, who became world-famous when he issued the warrant that resulted in former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s (1973-1990) arrest in London in 1998.

Judicial sources told IPS that given the makeup of the oversight board, it is very likely to decide Friday to suspend Garzón.

If that happens, the judge would not be eligible for a leave of absence to work in The Hague.

Moreno Ocampo said in an interview in the Madrid daily El País that “no one can doubt that in the whole world, Garzón is the judge” with the greatest experience in investigating international criminal organisations.

He also pointed out that the ICC has the mission to put an end to impunity for mass crimes, referring to the Court’s mandate to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes that have not been tried in the countries where they were committed.

If Garzón is suspended, he would be barred from leaving the country.

Judge Varela acted in favour of the two far-right groups that brought the case against Garzón by asking them to present new indictments, in order to correct several errors that he detected.

Dolores Delgado told IPS that the Supreme Court had acted hastily in deciding to give the green light for the trial against Garzón, issuing “a flood” of resolutions of three or four sheets each, instead of the usual 100 or more pages each.

She said that indicated that the resolutions were neither closely studied nor well-founded, but were merely issued to punish Garzón without grounds.

Delgado also said the resolutions set a confusing schedule of dates devoid of logic because “the aim is to abort the International Criminal Court’s offer,” which would have allowed Garzón to work in The Hague for seven months “without representing a danger to anyone.”

She said the oversight board should give Garzón permission to go to The Hague and not suspend him until the trial actually begins.

If Garzón is suspended, “it would put an end to the principle of universal justice,” according to which the perpetrators of war crimes, torture, forced disappearance and other crimes against humanity are subject to international jurisdiction if no national court is able or willing to handle the cases.

And a suspension would make him “the last victim of Franquismo,” said Emilio Silva, head of the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory.

Garzón, instead of travelling to The Hague, “would be stuck in internal exile,” he said, unless the overwhelming worldwide expressions of support for the judge manage to influence the oversight board.

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