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Spanish Judge Garzon Challenges Case Against Him

April 6, 2011

Baltasar Garzón

Photo courtesy Flickr user Elfer.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon is asking the European Court of Human Rights to overturn his prosecution for looking into Franco-era crimes — the latest indication that the ghosts of the Spanish civil war are still alive in Spain.

Garzon had launched a probe in the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during the civil war and under Franco’s dictatorship. But far-right groups complained Garzon was violating an amnesty for members of the Franco regime, the so-called “pact of silence” created in 1977 during the transition to democracy.

Garzon was suspended from his post in May last year pending his trial. He accepted a temporary post at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. If convicted, Garzon could be suspended for 20 years.

Garzon is arguing that the case against him violates Spain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, including protecting judges from “unfounded criminal prosecutions.”

Helen Duffy, Interights’ litigation director who is Garzon?s legal counsel before the European Court, described the case as an “anathema to justice.”

“It is surprising that a country with a strong commitment to the rule of law, which emerged from dictatorship decades ago, should respond to a leading judge’s investigation of Franco era crimes in this way,” Helen Duffy, Garzon’s legal counsel before the European Court, told AFP.

Garzon is best known for bringing charges against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He has also aggressively pursued charges against the Basque separatist group ETA.

The case is the latest to illustrate the open wounds that linger from the Spanish civil war. Britain’s newspaper The Guardian recently published a thoughtful article about “Spain and the lingering legacy of Franco,” part of its ongoing New Europe series.

Franco’s rule amounts to “the most severe peacetime repression in any country in Europe, barring the Soviet Union,” historian Nigel Townson told writer Jonathan Freedland.

“Spain has lacked the catharsis that can come with a full reckoning with the past,” Freedland writes. “There has been no equivalent of Germany’s Willy Brandt moment, when the then-chancellor sank to his knees in atonement for the Holocaust.”