Trial of Spanish judge undermines EU credibility: rights group

24th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

The trial of campaigning Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon undermines the European Union's credibility and its efforts to combat impunity and rights abuses, Human Rights Watch warned on Saturday.

Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 under the principle of "universal jurisdiction", which held that heinous crimes committed abroad can be tried in Spain, now faces two trials himself.

Earlier this month he was indicted for exceeding his authority by opening an investigation in 2008 into crimes committed by Franco regime in Spain that were covered by a amnesty.

Garzon also appeared before the Supreme Court in Madrid last week in a suspected bribery case involving payments he allegedly received for seminars in the United States.

"Garzon sought justice for victims of human rights abuses abroad and now he's being punished for trying to do the same at home," said Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch in Brussels.

"The decision leaves Spain and Europe open to the charge of double standards and undermines the EU's credibility and effectiveness in the fight against impunity for serious crimes," she added.

A European Commission spokesman declined to comment on a case, saying it was a matter of national jurisdiction.

The rights group said warned it could hamper Europe's attempts to seek justice "for current human rights crimes, be they in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Sri Lanka."

Garzon dropped his probe into Franco-era crimes within months of launching it after state prosecutors and conservative politicians questioned his jurisdiction.

But Human Rights Watch defended his decision to bypass the 1977 amnesty to investigate the crimes of the right-wing dictatorship.

"Garzon's decision not to apply Spain's amnesty is supported by international conventional and customary law, which impose on states a duty to investigate the worst international crimes, including crimes against humanity."

A series of protests in Spain and elsewhere in support of Garzon were planned throughout Saturday.

Spain currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

© 2010 AFP

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