Several international human rights and jurist organizations on Monday petitioned the UN [text, PDF] to support Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in his inquiry into human rights violations during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder] and to ask Spain to end his criminal prosecution. Garzon was suspended last week [JURIST report] by the Spanish General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder]. He has also been formally charged [JURIST report] with abusing his power for violating Spain's 1977 amnesty laws, which bar investigation of all political crimes committed under the Franco regime. The international organizations argue [press release] that Spain's actions show an improper interference with what is supposed to be an independent judiciary, and that the investigation and interpretation of Spain's amnesty laws should be determined by judicial review and appeal:
By allowing Judge Garzon to be charged and suspended for carrying out his judicial duty to interpret the law as requiring the investigation of credible complaints of over 100,000 disappearances and executions, Spain is violating its positive legal duties arising from both domestic and international law to protect and enforce rights that are core to the implementation and enforcement of all human rights. ... The paramount duty of states to ensure and allow effective investigations of disappearances and executions has been defined by international instruments and interpreted and confirmed by national and international tribunals. ... Disappearances and executions remain in widespread use by states across the economic spectrum as a brutally effective means of neutralizing suspected opponents with absolute impunity. In the struggle between law and realpolitik, Judge Garzon has been a singular advocate for the proper universal enforcement of human rights and therefore one of the world's most effective opponents of impunity. The charges against him have effectively silenced him and will indubitably have a chilling effect on other judges called to make unpopular decisions regarding allegations of serious criminal wrongdoing by former state agents.No trial date has been set to adjudicate the claims against Garzon, but, if convicted, he could face a suspension of up to 20 years.
Last week, the judiciary oversight committee of the CGPJ approved a request [JURIST report] by Garzon to work with the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The ICC confirmed earlier this month [press release] that they had asked Garzon to work for them as a consultant for a period of seven months in order to improve their investigative methods. The CGPJ granted Garzon's request for leave indicating there was no legal reason preventing him from working as a consultant with the ICC. Thousands gathered [JURIST report] in cities across Spain last month in support of Garzon, chanting slogans and displaying flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].