Spanish judge calls for truth about Franco era

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Baltasar Garzon may have given up probing into Franco’s atrocities but remains a firm believer of uncovering the historic truth about the Franco's regime.

19 November 2008

MADRID - Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon on Tuesday unexpectedly gave up his controversial inquiry into alleged human rights crimes committed during the 1936-39 civil war and General Francisco Franco's ensuing 36-year dictatorship.

Garzon reluctantly yielded in a dispute over jurisdiction, and transferred the case to lower courts.

In October, the judge launched a probe into the killings of tens of thousands of civilians by Franco supporters during the 1936-39 war and in the early years of his right-wing rule. He ordered the unearthing of 25 mass graves believed to hold remains of victims of pro-Franco militia.

It was Spain's first judicial investigation into the fate of Franco's victims and left the country divided - with victims' families, human rights groups and the political left supporting it, while the conservatives accused Garzon of reopening old wounds.

Prosecutors at Garzon's National Court challenged him on grounds he lacked jurisdiction. They argued that such crimes were covered by an amnesty passed in 1977 - two years after Franco died - as Spain moved to restore democracy and focus on rebuilding their ruined nation rather than on reopening old wounds.

The National Court suspended the planned opening of the mass graves, which had been authorised by Garzon. That exhumation would have included a grave believed to contain the bones of poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

On Tuesday, Garzon unexpectedly gave up, but went out fighting.

Spain's best-known judge nevertheless stressed that the statute of limitations on the crimes of the Francoist regime had not expired. He urged the cancellation of a 1977 amnesty for Franco's collaborators and the creation of a commission to establish the historic truth about the Franco era.

Garzon's decision was welcomed by the opposition conservatives while representatives of Franco's victims expressed disappointment.

Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, spokeswoman for the opposition conservative People's Party (PP), welcomed the end of the investigation, saying time had shown that Garzon was not competent to launch the probe.

Emilio Silva of the Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory (ARMH), representing Franco's victims, expressed "disappointment" over Garzon's decision. Silva said Spanish democracy had shown it was incapable of providing justice. Silve did not exclude the possibility of lodging a judicial appeal in an attempt to relaunch the investigation.

Franco regime killed more than 500,000
A total of more than 500,000 people died in the war, with atrocities committed on both sides. However, the Franco regime paid tribute to Francoists killed in the war, while tens of thousands of Republicans were forgotten in mass graves.

Citizens' associations have begun digging up republicans' remains in recent years, giving new burials to some 4,000 people.

In 2007, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government approved a ground-breaking law aimed at breaking the silence on Franco's legacy and at rehabilitating the memory of his victims.

The law contained provisions including the removal of Francoist monuments and the possibility of support to associations exhuming remains from mass graves.

However, the government was accused of dragging its feet in putting the law into effect, and Garzon's investigation gave new hope to the families of Franco's victims.

Garzon became internationally known when he tried to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998. He has investigated human rights abuses around the globe.

It was not logical for the Spanish judiciary to look into such abuses in other countries while ignoring them at home, according to those defending Garzon's probe.

Some of those opposing the investigation, however, say left-wing radicalism and Spain's instability partly justified Franco's uprising against the republican government.

[dpa / Expatica]

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