Spain judge Garzon defends Franco-era probes

[JURIST] Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] took the stand in his second trial [JURIST report] before the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday and defended his investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War. Garzon has been charged with abusing power by ordering the exhumation [JURIST reports] of 19 mass graves in Spain in order to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 law that provides amnesty for Franco-era crimes. While on the stand, Garzon refused to answer questions [CNN report] posed to him by the prosecution but did answer questions from his defense lawyer. Garzon denied that his investigation was politically motivated, stating that he was seeking justice for the victims of the alleged crimes. Garzon also rejected the idea that the 1977 amnesty law covers widespread human rights abuses. He indicated that the 1977 law was only meant to cover crimes of a political nature [Telegraph report], not crimes against humanity. Garzon's testimony was consistent with his previous statements defending [JURIST report] the validity of the investigation by insisting that he acted within the bounds of the law and appropriately applied the law at all times. If he is convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years.

Last March, Garzon filed a petition [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], challenging the 2010 abuse of power charges, for which he was suspended [JURIST report]. His petition follows the September 2010 decision of the Criminal Chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court, which unanimously confirmed [JURIST report] a lower court order that Garzon abused his power and must face trial. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. He is also facing two other trials, including one trial that began earlier in January involving charges that he ordered the placement of wiretaps in jailhouses [JURIST report] to record conversations between inmates and their lawyers. The third trial, which has not started, involves bribery charges over money Garzon received for seminars conducted in the US.

 

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