UN group voices 'concern' at Spanish judge Garzon's suspension

25th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

The UN group on enforced and involuntary disappearances voiced "concern" Tuesday at the suspension of crusading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon ahead of his trial for alleged abuse of power.

Throwing its support behind the embattled judge, the five-member group of independent experts said it "notes with concern" his suspension by Spain's General Council of the Judiciary.

Earlier this month, the council suspended Garzon from the bench at the National Court.

Garzon faces trial for abuse of power for opening a probe into the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during Spain's 1936-39 civil war and General Francisco Franco's subsequent right-wing dictatorship.

The case follows a complaint by far-right groups that the probe ignored an amnesty law passed in 1977, two years after Franco's death, for crimes committed under the general's rule.

"An amnesty law goes against the provisions of the Declaration (on enforced disappearances) when the state ends its obligations to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for disappearances, even where endorsed by a referendum," said the experts.

The experts said states have an "obligation to uncover the truth of the fate and whereabouts of persons who remain disappeared" and that its a continuing human rights violation until the truth is determined.

"Reconciliation between the state and the victims of enforced disappearances cannot happen without the clarification of each individual case," they added.

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

If convicted he would avoid prison but could be suspended for up to 20 years, which would effectively end the domestic career of the 54-year-old.

Garzon, who is highly popular among the Spanish political left and international human rights campaigners, is also involved in two other cases.

One concerns wiretaps he ordered as part of a probe into a corruption scandal involving members of the conservative opposition party and the other suspected bribery over payments he allegedly received for seminars in New York.

Garzon first made world headlines in October 1998 when he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in London under the principle of "universal jurisdiction."

Universal jurisdiction holds that heinous crimes like torture or terrorism can be tried in Spain even if they had no link to the country.

He also indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and looked into the deaths of Spaniards in Argentina during the military regime of 1976-83.

Last month, thousands rallied across 28 Spanish cities to protest against his prosecution with one rights group warning that it would undermine EU efforts to combat human rights abuses.

But critics like to point out that both his high-profile cases against Pinochet and Bin Laden went nowhere.

Conservative politicians and media in Spain have also accused him of opening old wounds with some of his probes or of being biased against the right.

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

Last year Spain's parliament voted to limit the scope of universal jurisdiction to cases with a clear link to Spain.

Spain's General Council of the Judiciary also decided earlier this month to grant Garzon leave of absence to work as an adviser for the International Criminal Court in The Hague for seven months.

© 2010 AFP

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