Move to investigate Franco dictatorship sparks controversy

3rd September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Human rights groups say the investigations should not be left to the judiciary.

Madrid -- A judicial move to investigate killings and disappearances during Spain's 1936-39 Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship of General Francisco Franco sparked controversy on Tuesday.

Governing Socialist Party spokesman Jose Antonio Alonso said the party backed efforts to restore dignity to Franco's victims but the human rights group Amnesty International accused the government of leaving human rights investigations to the judiciary.

National Court judge Baltasar Garzon announced Monday that he was requesting information on deaths and disappearances during the war, which was sparked by Franco's uprising against the legal Republican government, and during the dictatorship that lasted until Franco's death in 1975.

Garzon is seeking information on burials and disappearances from Spain's more than 20,000 parishes, several municipalities, several ministries and the Valley of the Fallen, Franco's huge mausoleum near Madrid, where civil war victims are also buried.

The judge said he wanted to determine whether the National Court was competent to investigate complaints lodged by several associations representing victims.

Garzon's ruling was described as the most important judicial move in Spain to clarify the fate of Franco's victims.

Victims' associations and leftist parties welcomed it, while conservative commentators and politicians said it revived old social divisions.

Citizens' associations exhuming republican remains from mass graves estimate that about 30,000 people are buried in unmarked places all over the country.

More than 500,000 people were killed on both sides of the war, which became a prelude to the fight against Fascism in World War II, with the Soviet Union backing the Republicans, while Germany and Italy sided with Franco's right-wing nationalists.

The Franco regime honored its own dead but it has not been officially clarified how many of his opponents were killed during and after the war.

The aim of Garzon's ruling was to press the state to identify the victims, the daily El Pais said.

A 2007 law, known as the Law of Historic Memory, obliges the central and regional authorities to establish maps indicating the location of mass graves.

Yet only two among Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions have done so, according to the Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory (ARMH), which has spearheaded the effort to give republicans honorable burials.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he "respected" Garzon's decision to establish a census of the victims but his government was accused of half-heartedness on the sensitive issue.

The government had not made "progress" on the basis of the 2007 law and "continues forgetting the responsibility of the state to investigate serious human rights violations," said Maria del Pozo of the Spanish section of Amnesty International.

A 1977 law granted a collective amnesty to Franco's collaborators, the conservative daily El Mundo pointed out. Conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy cautioned against "reopening wounds of the past."

A priest interviewed by El Mundo said Garzon tried to tarnish the reputation of the Catholic Church, which was one of the pillars of the Franco regime.

On the other hand, the far-left party Izquierda Unida (IU) welcomed Garzon's move as "essential."

It was time for the state to take over the exhumation of Republican remains from mass graves, said Santiago Macias of the ARMH, which has dug up the bones of about 1,200 people.

It had been contradictory for the National Court not to tackle human rights violations in Spain after investigating them under Latin American dictatorships, commentators said.

The highest-profile such case was Garzon's failed attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.


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