Hunt for Franco's men raises Spanish victims' hopes

2nd November 2014, Comments 0 comments

An Argentine judge has reopened old wounds from Spain's Franco dictatorship by ordering some of his ex-ministers to face justice for alleged killings.

Groups campaigning for justice for people tortured and killed under Francisco Franco hailed the "historic" move to demand the extradition of 20 Spanish officials including several ex-ministers.

They have also welcomed moves to investigate allegations that hundreds of thousands of babies were stolen from left-wing and unmarried mothers under the dictatorship.

Buenos Aires Judge Maria Servini de Cubria issued the arrest and extradition warrants invoking "universal jurisdiction", a legal doctrine that authorises judges to try serious rights abuses committed in other countries.

One of the lawyers acting for the plaintiffs, Carlos Slepoy, said it was the first time former ministers of the regime were targeted under universal jurisdiction.

"It is historic," said Maria Arcenegui Siemens, spokeswoman for the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, a group supporting victims of Spain's 1936-1939 civil war and the ensuing 36-year dictatorship.

"It is a great day.

"The two most prominent suspects targeted by Servini are Rodolfo Martin Villa, 79, who was a senior official in Franco's regime and later interior minister just after the dictator's death, and Jose Utrera Molina, 86, who was housing minister under Franco.

Villa is accused of ordering a police raid on protesting workers sheltering in a church which left five people dead in 1976, according to Servini's ruling.

Utrera is suspected of being one of the officials who in 1974 signed the execution order for Salvador Puig Antich, a Catalan anarchist accused of killing a policeman.

Utrera is the father-in-law of Spain's ex-justice minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, who resigned in September over an unrelated matter.

Gallardon has said several times that he admires Utrera, who still praises Franco's regime.

Servini issued a request to cross-border police agency Interpol to demand Spanish authorities carry out the "pre-emptive detention with a view to extradition" of the suspects.

- 'Stolen babies' -Two years after Franco's death in 1975, Spanish leaders signed an amnesty agreement seen as essential to avoid a spiral of score-settling as they tried to unite the country and steer it to democracy.

"Democracy returned overnight.

but nothing was purged," said Arcenegui.

Spanish authorities still invoke the amnesty law in refusing to investigate alleged atrocities from the Franco era, despite demands by the United Nations that it be scrapped.

Servini last year issued warrants for two former policemen accused of torture, but the Spanish courts refused to extradite them.

It was nevertheless significant that the two men were made to appear in court for an extradition hearing, Arcenegui said.

The warrants are part of an investigation launched by Servini in 2010 into alleged crimes against humanity and genocide.

They also touch on another of the abuses of the Franco era -- the "stolen babies".

Among the other suspects targeted by Servini's latest order is a doctor accused of taking away a newborn from its mother in 1967 and of telling the woman the child had been stillborn.

Campaign groups say hundreds of thousands of babies of left-wing opponents or unmarried couples were taken away at birth and given to adoptive families.

A handful have been reunited with their birth parents over recent years.

More than 2,000 cases have been registered in Spanish courts, though many have run into bureaucratic barriers, with hospitals saying they no longer hold the records.

Campaigners also want courts to investigate the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during the civil war and the dictatorship.

Renowned judge Baltasar Garzon was tried in 2012 for trying to investigate those disappearances.

The Supreme Court acquitted him of charges of abusing his authority but judged that his attempt to investigate was "a mistake" and was not authorised under Spanish law.

Servini's latest move "gets the problem of impunity for the Francoists back out in the open", one of the plaintiffs in the case being investigated by Servini, Jose Galante, told Spanish television.

"This day offers hope that those criminals will be judged in Argentina and even in our country.

"The lawyer Seploy added: "We are convinced, as are many judges and prosecutors in Spain, that these matters must be investigated.

"He said it was now up to the Spanish government to pass on the arrest order to the courts for them to notify the suspects.

"If the government prevents that, it will be very obvious that are protecting certain people," he said.


© 2014 AFP

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