Spain's crusading judge appears before Supreme Court

13th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Supreme Court last May admitted a complaint against Garzon from right-wing organisation Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), despite a request from prosecutors for it to be dropped.

Madrid -- Spain's leading investigative judge Baltasar Garzon appeared before the Supreme Court last week to answer allegations he exceeded his authority in opening a probe into Franco-era crimes.

The judge, known around the world for his campaigns against former Latin American dictators, arrived at the court around midday and left some four hours later, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

The Supreme Court last May admitted a complaint against Garzon from right-wing organisation Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), despite a request from prosecutors for it to be dropped.

Manos Limpias accused the judge of exceeding his authority in October 2008 when he agreed to investigate the disappearances of tens of thousands of people during the 1936-39 civil war and the ensuing right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

As part of the investigation into a divisive period of Spanish history he ordered mass graves that are thought to hold the remains of victims of Franco's forces to be unearthed.

Public prosecutors opposed the probe, arguing it violated an amnesty agreed by political parties in the spirit of national reconciliation in 1977, two years after Franco's death, for crimes committed under the general's rule.

In November 2008 Garzon announced he was dropping the investigation on the grounds that Franco and 43 of his associates could not be held legally responsible because they were dead.

He also handed to regional courts responsibility for the excavation of mass graves from the civil war era.

In its complaint, Manos Limpias accused Garzon of ignoring the 1977 amnesty. Garzon had argued that there was no statute of limitations covering the disappearances since they constituted crimes against humanity.

On Monday, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Geneva-based human rights organisation, voiced concern at the Supreme Court's decision.

"International legal standards of judicial independence prohibit the criminal liability of judges for controversial or even unjust or incorrect decisions, which should be dealt with through disciplinary procedures", said Roisin Pillay, ICJ Senior Legal Advisor for the Europe Programme.

"Prosecutions of judges for professional acts constitute an inappropriate and unwarranted interference with the independence of the judicial process."

On Tuesday a group that seeks to identify the victims of Franco-era killings also condemned the probe of Garzon as "grossly unjust."

"It is incomprehensible that an attempt to seek justice for victims of rights violations as serious as those committed by the Franco dictatorship can be considered as a crime," the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory said.

"For victims of Franco it is a humiliation to see that the judge who tried to find thousands of disappeared in mass graves could be convicted for it."

AFP/Expatica

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